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Home » Clarion » 2019 » September 2019 » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Eye on health

Health coverage for new hires,” in May’s Clarion, reports that after July 1, new hires in city jobs (including in CUNY) will be in HIP and cannot choose another health plan for a full year. This giveback, agreed to by the Municipal Labor Committee, of which the PSC is a member, will pay a portion of wage increases for some MLC member unions.

This is just the latest and most painful example of the erosion of our employer-provided health benefits. But there is no doubt that more is coming. Some ominous signs:

  • According to the city’s website, the city and the MLC have set up a committee to address “the longer term sustainability of health care for workers,” which will recommend, “modifications to the way in which health care is currently provided or funded by June 30, 2020.”
  • This May, all Suffolk County public-sector unions agreed that, for the first time, members would pay 2 percent of their salary toward their health benefits; this wipes out the first year of their contract’s wage increases.
  • School districts across New York State are facing long-term unsustainable health care cost increases.

With the cost of health benefits rising faster than workers’ salaries, the question is will we sacrifice health benefits to protect salaries, or vice versa?

All of us should be supporting single-payer initiatives, like the New York Health Act or Medicare for All, since they will eliminate health care as a subject of bargaining, freeing up money for wage increases and will put the brakes on runaway health care costs for everyone. But the MLC has decided to oppose the New York Health Act, and has not responded to offers by the Act’s legislative sponsors that would alleviate the MLC’s concerns. This makes no sense for the rank-and-file of the MLC-member unions, who will give back more and more in salary, or benefits, or both, the longer the current health care system continues. PSC should call for its sisters and brothers in the MLC to step forward and get the best health act possible.

Robert Nelson
The Graduate Center, retired

The union responds: Thanks for your letter. The PSC has been a leading, if minority, voice within the MLC in support of the position that New York’s public-sector unions should use our collective power to ensure that changes are made in the New York Health Act so that it can be embraced by all unions.

At its best, the labor movement has been about advancing the lives and health of all workers, not only those in our own union. The MLC unions that oppose the bill raise serious and legitimate concerns about its impact on existing benefits, benefits that were often won by making sacrifices on salary in the public sector. But I am still hopeful that the MLC can work with the sponsors of the legislation to achieve a bill that works for all. Meanwhile, it’s important for readers to know that a major accomplishment by the MLC in the current round of bargaining was to reject the imposition of mandatory health insurance premium payments by City workers.

We managed to preserve NYC health insurance as a program with a premium-free option—exactly because we were aware of the constantly rising premiums in Suffolk County and almost everywhere else. The only real solution, however, is universal healthcare.

Don’t believe the hype

The “Medicare Part B reimbursement update” in the May Clarion makes it appear that the Clarion staff get information from the City’s Office of Labor Relations and uncritically repeat what they’re told.

As a TIAA retiree, my reimbursement arrives in the form of a check. It arrived on May 20. It couldn’t possibly have been mailed in April as the Clarion reports.

The article goes on to note that the “standard Medicare Part B deduction” is $134 per month, yet my reimbursement continues to be computed as if the deduction had been $109. The annualized difference of $300 is euphemistically described as the “differential.” A more accurate characterization would be “money due retirees but paid only after an unconscionable delay of nearly a year.” My own 2017 differential check didn’t arrive until April 19, 2019.

However, Clarion says those retirees who file for IRMAA reimbursement will receive their differential in November 2019. (Those who don’t will have to wait until spring 2020.)

I’m dubious. I filed for IRMAA reimbursement each of the last two years and never received my differential before March of the subsequent year. We retirees are wondering if November 2019 will turn into spring 2020.

Do the Clarion staff believe everything that OLR tells them or are they willing to learn from union membership what the real story is?

Michael Engber
City College, retired

Clarion responds: There is no question that the Medicare Part B reimbursement process is fraught, particularly for TIAA pension participants, because the city’s system is geared to the defined benefit plans. Clarion does its best to question the city’s claims, and your corrections are much appreciated. The goal of the article was to alert retirees to the general Medicare Part B reimbursement process and timing and to provide sources for attempting to solve problems (of which there are far too many).

Correction: In an article in the May issue, “Recalling 50 years since the CCNY strike,” former City College professor of sociology L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy is quoted as saying that only two of the 40 new faculty members hired in the last year were black or Latino. This was not accurate. Lewis-McCoy, now of New York University, clarified, “When I was hired, in 2007, only two out of 40 or so new faculty hired were black or Latino.”

Editor’s Note: Clarion reserves the right to edit all letters submitted for publication.

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