Seeks to support retirees in transition
Retiree activists marching against the proposed change.
While a majority of member unions of the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) voted in July to approve privatized administration of Medicare benefits for municipal retirees, the PSC took the lead in pushing for greater transparency and ultimately voted “no” on the grounds that the process was opaque and could lead to further privatization of city worker health-care plans in the name of austerity. PSC was joined by the Doctors Council, New York State Nurses Association, and the Committee of Interns and Residents in opposing the change, which is set to take effect January 1, 2022.
PSC President James Davis said, “Our members are deeply troubled by the MLC’s rush to vote on this proposal. This austerity measure opens the door to further cost-cutting and diminished benefits in future contracts.”
The PSC leadership convened a mass meeting, prior to the MLC vote, on July 13. The online meeting was attended by more than 800 PSC retirees and concerned members. Hundreds of retirees from various unions rallied in Manhattan against the proposal before the vote.
The leadership convened another meeting with retirees on July 27 after the MLC approved the deal, so that retirees could hear from and speak to representatives of the new Anthem Blue Cross-Emblem Health “Alliance.” This meeting drew more than 500 participants.
A statement from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office explained that New York City and the MLC agreed to “an alliance between Anthem Blue Cross and Emblem Health to provide the NYC Medicare Advantage Plus Program,” which “provides continuity for the majority of employees and retirees who are currently enrolled in the city’s [comprehensive benefits plan] and Senior Care programs,” replacing “the current Senior
Care program, which is a supplement to traditional Medicare, as the program that is free to all retirees.”
The Blue Cross-Emblem Alliance has established a hotline for retiree questions at (833) 325-1190. The NYC Office of Labor Relations has also launched a website, with an FAQ page and a plan comparison chart available.
The city has established an “opt-out” period from September 1 to October 15, 2021, for retirees who do not wish to be part of the new program when it takes effect on January 1 of next year. Retirees who elect to stay in traditional Medicare will have to pay a premium. The benefits that PSC retirees receive through the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund will not be affected by the shift to the Medicare Advantage Plus Program.
The statement from the mayor’s office asserted, “The [new] plan must follow Medicare rules and provide all benefits provided by Medicare. The plan will not only cover all the traditional Medicare benefits as well as the benefits covered by the Senior Care supplemental plan, but will also add some important new benefits.” The mayor’s office said that fears over loss of coverage were unfounded and that retirees would not lose the health-care services they are currently receiving.
ACCESS TO CARE
The city and the Blue Cross-Emblem Alliance have assured the MLC unions that retirees will continue to have access to the same doctors and hospitals they currently use. Specifically, members will have in-network access to all providers in the Emblem and Empire networks in New York, and all Blue Cross-Blue Shield associated networks around the country. These providers, according to the plan, are contractually bound to accept NYC Medicare Advantage Plus members.
The new plan will also pay out-of-network providers who accept Medicare at the Medicare rate. If an out-of-network provider refuses to accept payment from the Medicare Advantage Plus Program, the Alliance says it will reimburse the member at the Medicare rate less copays and coinsurance.
PSC members rallied opposition for months before the MLC vote. “The position of the chapter was and is that we needed information on the proposed Medicare Advantage plan and transition prior to the MLC vote,” PSC retirees chapter chair Bill Friedheim said in a statement. “At our April meeting, the chapter called for a moratorium on the vote, which became PSC policy when the union’s highest governing body, the Delegate Assembly, voted unanimously at its April 15 meeting to endorse the chapter’s position.”
The switch to Medicare Advantage is the result of a 2018 deal between the MLC and the city to restructure health-care costs for City workers. For Friedheim and other retiree advocates, this latest development has meant that instead of the state seeking new forms of revenue to fund health care, city unions are now managing austerity at the expense of workers and retirees.
The shift to a Medicare Advantage group plan for New York City retirees is part of a national move to privatize the administration of retiree health insurance. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services offer subsidies to private health insurance companies to administer Medicare programs. This federal subsidy is the primary source of cost savings that the Alliance is offering the city.
Another problem that the PSC hopes to address is the lack of oversight and accountability by the city for runaway hospital and prescription drug costs.
PSC President Davis added, “Whatever its provisions, a plan to shift the cost-saving burden to union members and municipal employees does not bode well for the future. Higher costs may be demanded of union members down the line. The answer is not privatization; it is to continue labor’s fight for a single-payer, public health-care system and a system for New York that serves municipal workers fairly.”