Health Care Guaranteed – Promises Rejected

Evelyn Jones Rich speaks at a recent rally for retiree healthcare
Evelyn Jones Rich speaks at a recent rally for retiree healthcare

By Evelyn Jones Rich & Lizette Colón

We are NYC retirees who have been fighting for the past three years to preserve what we earned through our years of service to the CITY of NY. FIGHTING! YES! – because the Adams administration has rejected NYC’s time-honored commitment to provide free, traditional medical coverage for its retirees (including the disabled) – all 250,000 of us as well as our dependents. The City has appealed the decision of NY State’s District Court affirming our right to free, traditional health care coverage and we continue to be in the streets, in the courts and in the press appealing to our fellow New Yorkers for support.

Our story is short! Mayor Di Blasio in 2016 elicited a commitment from the Municipal Labor Committee, a confederation of municipal unions, to save (allegedly) $600 million annually in the face of soaring hospital, pharmaceutical, and insurance costs for current and retired NYC employees. $600 million represents six tenths of one percent (.06 %) of NYC’s $105 billion budget. NYC continues to refuse to tax those residents with the most money and resources to pay their fair share of the City’s costs. Unions continue to support the City’s austerity budgets.

  • The MLC decided that the best way to honor that Agreement was to move its retirees into a Medical Advantage (MA) Plan. However, as retirees, these unions no longer represent us!
    Medicare Advantage plans portray and sell themselves to seniors, especially to the most vulnerable and those with scarce economic resources – as the perfect health plan alternative but fall far short in their delivery of services.
  • Medicare Advantage Plans – unlike traditional Medicare – generally require prior authorizations, have limited networks, and larger co-pays. Equally important, Medicare Advantage Plans can delay and/or deny care. Aetna’s MA plans, in which NYC tried to enroll its retirees, in just one year, imposed prior authorization restrictions on nearly three (3) million people and denied the claims of 400,000. Charges of fraud against Aetna are pending.
  • Medicare Advantage Plans are exempt from requirements that individual Medicare Advantage plans must meet. The AETNA Medicare Advantage Plans which NYC crafted in cooperation with the MLC can set its own enrollment deadlines, send members information without prior approval for accuracy from the Center for Medicare Services (CMS) and follow weaker requirements for provider networks, among other things.
  • As NYC retirees we are facing blatant attacks on our rights to our earned healthcare benefits. Grassroots groups such as the New York City Organization of Public Service Retirees (NYCOPSR) and others are fighting against the mayor and the unions. NYCOPSR has initiated and won three lawsuits against NYC on behalf of retirees. Others are pending. Bad management and back door deals since De Blasio and now Mayor Adams have allowed the MLC to misuse its funds designed to support members’ health care.
  • The MLC is an undemocratic body dominated by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and District Council 37 (DC37) of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Although together they represent 60% of MLC members, dissident groups within both unions have emerged and are challenging its power and activities.

As retirees we are inspired by the fight in the streets and the victories against the Medicare Advantage Plans of groups not only in NYC but also in Vermont and Delaware. As retirees we are asking that NYC current union municipal members join us and stand up urging the City Council to pass Intro 1099, now pending there, which will protect our health insurance coverage in perpetuity and enshrine Administrative Code 12-126.

The MLC recently sent a letter to its members incorrectly asserting that the passage of Intro 1099 challenges its collective bargaining rights as a representative of retirees and dismisses its ability to negotiate health care for retirees and current union members. The letter is threatening and intimidating! It refuses to acknowledge that neither collective bargaining nor the Taylor Law apply to retirees. What the letter doesn’t say is that the power of union leaders unable to negotiate health care costs is limited unless unions reject austerity which drives NYC budget making and that union leaders must demand higher wages, better security, improved working conditions and offer creative responses to the impact of climate change on the workplace.

Finally, the letter doesn’t acknowledge long-term municipal union resistance to single payer health care for ALL New Yorkers as the only effective response to out of control health care costs.

Member MLC unions that are in support of retirees must stand up publicly and denounce this travesty rather than be complicit by allowing silence to prevail. NYC residents must call their City Council representative (911). Support municipal retirees!