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Over the past decade, there has been a slow but relentless decline in health benefits for municipal workers, mainly for in-service employees – a co-pay here, a deductible there, a shift of health insurance in 2018 for new hires from Emblem Health to HIP. But then, in July 2021, the “slow” decline metastasized into something much more ominous. The New York City Office of Labor Relations (OLR) and the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) announced a massive restructuring of NYC retiree health-care insurance.
While city unions individually bargain directly with the city on wages, the MLC negotiates health-care benefits for more than 100 municipal unions, including the PSC.
The story does not end with retirees. The re-engineering of retiree health care grew out of a June 28, 2018, OLR-MLC agreement. On a recurring basis from fiscal year 2022 forward, that agreement calls for “$600 million per year savings” in municipal employee health benefits. Savings in effect meant cutbacks. Given this grim reality, the health-care benefits of every municipal union member, including NYC and PSC union members, are potentially next on the “$600 million per year savings” cutting block.
When OLR and the MLC signed the June 28, 2018, agreement, they targeted eight areas of potential savings, but only seriously considered one, reaching for the low- hanging fruit: retiree health benefits. For all but a few MLC unions (the PSC being one), retirees are denied membership and effectively any voice in union decisions. Cutting retiree benefits was easier and preserved the fiction, over the short term, that in-service benefits remain whole.
Among the menu of eight options, there were two with potential for major cost-savings that OLR-MLC did not pursue: (1) Exploring self-insurance (many states and cities self-insure to reduce costs); and (2) Municipal unions and the NYC government exercising their collective leverage to reduce runaway hospital costs. The PSC has subsequently joined a labor coalition examining how to reduce hospital costs, but this is outside the MLC.
Consider the path chosen by the OLR and MLC: Most NYC retirees and their spouses are Medicare eligible, so traditionally it became their primary health insurance, covering 80% of costs. The City provided premium-free, secondary insurance (e.g. NYC Senior Care), paying most of the remaining 20% with few out-of-pocket expenses for municipal retirees. Combined with robust benefits (particularly prescriptions) from the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund, PSC retirees had excellent, affordable health-care benefits, before the proposed restructuring of retiree health insurance.
The goal of the restructuring, approved by the MLC in July 2021 (with the PSC and several health-care unions in the minority, voting “NO!”) was to move the bulk of New York City’s 250,000 retirees from traditional Medicare administered by the government to a privatized Medicare Advantage Plus plan (MA+).
There was massive pushback by municipal retirees. The PSC Retiree Chapter started mobilizing its members in opposition in March 2021 when it first learned that NYC was considering moving municipal retirees from traditional Medicare to privatized, for-profit Medicare Advantage. When the City awarded a Medicare Advantage contract to the “Alliance” (of Anthem and Empire), the NYC Organization of Public Service Employees filed a successful lawsuit delaying implementation of the move to Medicare Advantage and stopping NYC from charging a premium for secondary insurance (e.g. NYC Senior Care) for those retirees who chose not to go into the Medicare Advantage program and to stay in traditional Medicare.
On July 18, 2022, the Anthem/Empire Alliance withdrew its NYC Medicare Advantage plan. Subsequently, on September 8, 2022, the MLC voted to join OLR in pushing for a Medicare Advantage contract with Aetna Insurance and pushing to amend the NYC Administrative Code so that the City could charge retirees a premium for NYC Senior Care. The PSC voted against amending the NYC administrative code, arguing that such a change would not only diminish retiree healthcare, but ultimately health insurance for in-service members as well. On March 9, 2023, joined by 25 other unions, the PSC voted “NO” on an MLC proposal to (1) approve a contract with Aetna Medicare Advantage and (2) to remove premium-free NYC Senior Care as an option for Medicare elligible retirees. But the “yes” vote prevailed. Click here for more recent updates on the pushback against the move to Medicare Advantage and the elimination of premium-free Medicare as an option.
CONTEXT AND HISTORY: For a more detailed history of PSC and retiree pushback from 2018 to July 2022, you can go here to the old PSC website and here for a February 2022 Clarion article. And here for updates from the summer of 2022 to the present.
Here is a list of both PSC and city-wide key events on the proposed NYC changes in healthcare benefits for municipal retirees and employees — and the pushback against them.
- October 20, 2023. Judge Lyle Frank issued an order maintaining class action status in the NYCOPSR lawsuit against the imposition of co-pays, e.g., he affirmed that all NYC retirees who had been charged $15 co-pays by GHI SeniorCare were one group and the results of the lawsuit against the co-pays would apply to everyone. See January 11, 2023 below.
- August 11, 2023. Judge Lyle Frank issued a ruling in New York State Supreme Court permanently blocking the City from removing retired City workers and their dependents from their current health insurance plans and forcing them either to enroll in the Aetna Medicare Advantage Plan or find their own coverage. New York City is appealing.
- May 31, 2023: The NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees files suit seeking a temporary restraining order against the City’s move to the Aetna MA plan, arguing that NYC violated the city charter by not offering choice, violated state and city human rights laws which prohibit discrimination against disabled people, and failed to follow proper procedures. [See article in the New York Daily News. The lawsuit documents can be viewed here.]
- May 25, 2023: NYS Appellate Court unanimously affirmed a decision from Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lyle Frank prohibiting the City and EmblemHealth from charging co-pays for medical services for NYC Senior Care. The case was brought by the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees.
- May 24, 2023: PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund Board of Trustees clarified that CUNY retirees who are over 65 years of age and otherwise eligible for PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund Retiree supplemental benefits will remain eligible for all Fund supplemental benefits if they waive participation in the New York City Health Insurance Program.
- March 31, 2023: Pushback against the NYC move of retirees from traditional Medicare to Medicare Advantage continues as over 400 retirees protest at City Hall rally.
- March 30, 2023: NYC signs a contract with Aetna, and the OLR Commissioner states to the MLC that the City will only provide a Medigap option for traditional Medicare similar to NYC Senior Car ‘ in the event a change in circumstances in the future, whether due to litigation, legislative action, or some other event, mandates a different approach….”
- March 21, 2023: PSC testifies against proposed NYC/Aetna contract at OLR hearing.
- March 10, 2023:NYC Office of Labor Relations Commissioner Campion sends a letter to all Medicare-eligible retirees announcing that as of September 1, 2023 all Medicare-eligible retirees and Medicare-eligible dependents will be automatically enrolled in a Medicare Advantage (MA) Plan,
- March 10, 2023: The full Aetna contract is posted on the NYC OLR website.
- March 9, 2023: MLC local union leaders vote to accept the Aetna MA plan as the only plan available to Medicare-eligible retirees, other than HIP VIP. PSC voted NO as did two dozen other unions. The full Aetna contract was not made available before the vote, only a summary, and more locals voted No or abstained than in the past.
- January 11, 2023. Judge Lyle Frank Issues Injunction Stopping City from Charging $15 Co-Pays for NYC Senior Care.
- January 9, 2023. PSC Testimony at City Council Hearing to Change NYC Administrative Code.
- January 9, 2023. “A Better Way for NYC Retiree Healthcare,” A NY Daily News Op/Ed by Barbara Bowen and Barbra Caress.
- December 30, 2022: PSC Proposes Alternative Path for NYC Employees Benefit Program in Response to Arbitrator’s Ruling and City Council Hearings Scheduled for 1/9/23.
- December 15, 2022: Arbitrator Calls for OLR/MLC to Complete Negotiations with Aetna on MA+ Plan by 1/9/23 and Calls on City Council to Amend NYC Administrative Code. Article in NY Focus/City. The Arbitrator’s Ruling.
- November 22, 2022: NYS Appellate Division Unanimously Upholds Judge Lyle Frank’s March 3, 2022 Lower Court Decision. Article from Work-Bites. The Decision.
- November 7, 2022: “Defend Health Benefits for NYC Employees, Retirees” — Letter from James Davis to PSC members.
- September 9, 2022:”PSC Opposes Weakening NYC Health Insurance Protections” — Letter from James Davis to PSC Members.
- September 8, 2022: MLC votes to join City to push for change in NYC administrative code on healthcare. Arguing that this will diminish healthcare for retirees and ultimately in-service workers, PSC votes “NO.”
- July 25, 2022: Letter to retirees from PSC president James Davis on the Anthem/Empire withdrawal from the NYC Medicare Advantage Plus plan.
- July 18, 2022: Anthem/Empire withdraws its NYC MA+ plan.
- March 30, 2022: Comptroller does not reigister MA+ plan, sending it back to OLR
- March 8, 2022: Letter from PSC president James Davis with important updated information in light of Judge Frank’s ruling.
- March 8, 2022: Comptroller calls on Mayor’s office to drop MA+ plan.
- March 7, 2022: Chapter meeting update on healthcare.
- March 4, 2022: NYC announces it will not implement MA+ on April 1, 2122.
- March 4, 2022: PSC monthly retiree newsletters, from April 2021 to the present, provide analysis, updates and space for members’ voices on the City’s move of benefits from traditional Medicare to privatized Medicare Advantage.
- March 3, 2022: Judge Lyle E. Frank lifts TRO and tells City it cannot charge a premium for Senior Care and other NYC healthcare programs.
- February 14, 2022: Cross-Union Retirees Organizing Committee (CROC) holds “Valentine’s Day, Tell the Mayor Don’t Break Our Hearts!” rally at City Hall.
- February 7, 2022: Chapter analysis and update on healthcare.
- February 7, 2022: NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees argues in status conference before Judge Lyle Frank that all NYC retiree plans under City’s administrative code must be premium free.
- February 6, 2022: Mayor Eric Adams endorses Medicare Advantage Plus plan.
- January 1, 2022: Emblem’s co-pays for NYC Senior Care go into effect.
- December 21, 2021: CROC rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall urges Mayor-Elect Eric Adams to scrap MA+ plan.
- December 14, 2022: Judge Frank extends his injunction, pushing back implementation of the Medicare Advantage Plus plan to April 1, 2022 and the opt-out date to March 31, 2022
- December 6, 2021: Chapter meeting update on healthcare.
- November 10, 2021: Office of Labor Relations (OLR) hearing and PSC Testimony on MA+ contract.
- November 1, 2021: Chapter meeting update on healthcare.
- October 28, 2021: City Council hearing and PSC testimony on changes to retiree healthcare.
- October 20, 2021: Judge Lyle Frank hears three lawsuits and in response to that of NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees issues a TRO extending the deadline for retiree enrollment beyond October 31.
- October 4, 2021: Chapter meeting update on healthcare.
- September 24, 2021: CROC organizes a “Die-In” at City Hall to protest move to MA+.
- September 13, 2021: Chapter meeting update on healthcare.
- August 30, 2021: Information session for PSC retirees on proposed healthcare changes.
- July 27, 2021: Information session for PSC retirees on proposed healthcare changes.
- July 27, 2021: Letter from James Davis to PSC retirees explaining the July 14 MLC vote and the PSC’s dissent.
- July 14, 2021: Municipal Labor Committee MLC) votes for City plan to move municipal retirees to MA+ with PSC and four other unions voting “NO!”
- July 12, 2021: PSC calls on MLC to postpone vote on moving retiree healthcare to MA+.
- June 30, 2021: CROC march and rally in lower Manhattan in opposition to the proposed move to Medicare Advantage.
- June 24, 2021: PSC speakers join in a forum of over 600 people sponsored by NY StateWide Senior Action Council to oppose the City’s move to privatized Medicare.
- June 17, 2021: PSC speakers join in a forum of over 650 people sponsored by Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP) to oppose the City’s move to privatized Medicare.
- May 3, 2021: PSC retiree chapter meeting hears updates about negotiations and calls for an organized response.
- April 2021: Council of Municipal Retiree Organizations (COMRO) launches petition for a moratorium (on MLC/OLR consideration of the move to MA) which eventually enlists over 28.000 signatures.
- April 15, 2021: PSC Delegate Assembly by a vote of 115 to 0 endorses the retiree chapter’s call for a moratorium.
- April 5, 2021: PSC retiree chapter meeting addresses proposed change to Medicare Advantage and calls for a moratorium on any MLC vote,
- March 31, 2021: PSC retiree chapter, in its newsletter, first alerts members of proposed move to MA+.
- November 9, 2020: OLR RFP for Medicare Advantage plans.
- June 28, 2018: OLR-MLC agreement calls for “$600 million per year savings” in municipal employee health benefits on a recurring basis from fiscal year 2022 forward (including exploring the possible “adoptation of Medicare Advantage benchmark plan for retirees).”
–Return to What’s Happening to Our Healthcar
Published: January 31, 2023
Last Modified: October 31, 2023