Municipal Retirees LOSE for now the Fight Against Medicare Advantage – The Struggle Continues!

Mayor Eric Adams – as expected – signed a Contract with AETNA, a private, for-profit health insurance behemoth, to deliver health care to NYC’s 250,000 municipal retirees and their dependents on March 30, 2023. Effective September 1, 2023 retirees will be held captive by a company currently charged with fraud and overbilling the federal government billions of dollars and now empowered to delay and/or deny health care for ailments which cause seniors life-threatening illness or, perhaps, hasten death.

This is a monumental threat to the quality, comprehensive health care we were promised when we signed on – decades ago – to work as employees for New York City accepting significantly smaller salaries in return. Now, at the eleventh hour – urged on by insufficient and (in our view) incorrect knowledge and a refusal to explore all options for addressing out-of-control rising medical costs with ALL the stakeholders participating – the Adams administration has sold its soul and possibly our lives for elusive federal dollars and questionable care for its retirees.

The roots of this predicament go back as far as World War II when the government denied labor unions the right to bargain for increased wages in return for offering members’ health care coverage. Over the years as access to health care became increasingly popular labor unions cemented the idea among its members that their ability to deliver quality care at little or no cost was an essential union membership benefit.

Today, years later, municipal unions still covet their ability to deliver quality care to members believing that doing so cements their power – power that they will hold on to – no matter what the cost!

Today – 2023 – that cost is unacceptable to retirees – like us – who benefit from traditional Medicare – first passed in 1965 and now providing the quality, comprehensive, care we need, deserve and earned in our golden years.

Confronted with escalating and unacceptable health care expenses for both its current workers and its retirees, the municipal unions – represented by the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) and its 105+ member organizations – agreed to health care savings in return for partially increased wages for its current members.

This Agreement – first negotiated in 2016 and later codified in 2020 – came as the Health Insurance Stabilization Fund – operating within the MLC and designed to fund expenses not covered by Medicare – was threatened with depletion. ($1 billion was taken from the Fund to pay for UFT raises.)

Although postponed during the pandemic, NYC demanded its implementation in 2022 and, in response, the MLC voted to transfer its retirees into a Medicare Advantage plan – first crafted by Emblem and currently by AETNA – which would – allegedly – save the City $600 million dollars (to be contributed by the Federal Government) . (Note also that the funds the Feds have supplied Medicare Advantage Plans have gradually declined and are now estimated to be about 2% of the $600 million in 2023!)

Retirees are resisting! Two organizations have emerged representing retirees – the New York City Organization of Municipal Retirees (NYCOMR) and the Cross Union Retiree Organizing Committee (CROC). Retirees want to retain access to traditional Medicare and the Part B and IRMAA reimbursements promised and bargained. The NY City Administrative Code, Section 12-126, codifies health care for Municipal Retirees. The AETNA contract attempts to circumvent a District Court decision (affirmed by the Appellate Court) which requires that Section 12-126 be honored by making the AETNA contract the ONLY plan NYC offers its retirees.

If NYC prevails in this effort, retirees – mostly women and Black and Brown – with the smallest pensions and greatest need will suffer the most! They cannot afford to opt out and pay for supplementary health care from their limited funds. Current NYC employees will be NEXT as the power and greed of Medicare Advantage health insurance companies continue to dominate and NYC bureaucrats postpone rather than confront a health care situation which will only grow worse.

The challenge of keeping the promise to municipal retirees in cities across the nation grows and is no longer a local issue. Their nascent organizations have reached out to us from across six cities asking for support, counsel and advice. They, too, recognize that we are in the midst of a national effort to privatize traditional Medicare. We see our fight as paart of a national effort to achieve – first at the NY State level and, ultimately, across the nation passage of Medicare for All.

Here, at home, there are affected retirees across our various communities. We, retirees, continue to resist. NOTHING is written in stone! Call the Mayor at 311! Urge him to rescind the AETNA Contract. Join us in this fight! Contribute to the NYCOPSC to support court challenges. Contact your City Council person (also 311) to support our legislative appeals. Join our street rallies showing support for our cause. The future and lives of our children and our children’s children as well as our own are at stake.