April 15, 2024

Health Mettler Institute

Healthy LifeStyle & Education

New York City Retirees Fight Their Own Unions to Stop Catastrophic Health Care Cuts

New York City Retirees Fight Their Own Unions to Stop Catastrophic Health Care Cuts

[This article has been updated.] Defying two years of protests and lawsuits by union retirees, New York City’s Municipal Labor Committee voted March 9 to scrap some of the most effective retiree wellness care protection in the place. The adjust would put 250,000 town retirees into a for-earnings Medicare Advantage plan operate by Aetna.

Twenty-six unions in the MLC voted no, even though other people abstained. But their votes were swamped by the votes of the biggest unions on the committee, AFSCME District Council 37 and the New York United Federation of Academics.

Retirees and energetic members protested during the MLC vote and marched to Metropolis Hall. They are inquiring the city council to improve the legislation shielding retiree overall health treatment. The NYC Firm of General public Provider Retirees promises to sue.

The New York City battle has broader implications as for-profit Medicare Benefit insurance organizations appear less than fire for second-guessing doctors, blocking patient care, and ripping off the community although they reel in report gains.

What is Medicare Advantage?

In standard Medicare, out there when you switch 65, you existing your card, get treatment, and the authorities pays for it.

With Medicare Edge, a for-earnings insurance policies enterprise will get income from the authorities to deal with you. But they get to acquire a body fat cut—Medicare Edge is now the most valuable sector of an presently-rewarding overall health insurance business. And they get to say what care you can get.

Medicare Gain strategies negotiated by companies and unions do give worse protection than classic Medicare. But they are frequently far better than the specific Medicare Gain ideas that seniors may possibly sign up for by themselves and which are marketed on late-night time Tv set.


Medicare Gain strategies that people today buy on the private insurance coverage industry may perhaps function out to have much less expensive rates than regular Medicare mainly because they wrap in a drug profit and may possibly cap out-of-pocket charges. But they are notorious for denying highly-priced care, imposing slender networks of medical practitioners and hospitals, and ripping off the authorities.

On the other hand, union-negotiated Medicare Advantage programs are the final result of insurance policy companies getting to negotiate with unions and companies to indicator up large teams of retirees, and that may well restrain the most egregious abuses. Still, some retirees in negotiated programs report that they have been denied treatment at the most challenging time in their lives.

In each situations, the for-income insurance corporations that run the strategies have a potent incentive to deny care. Each dollar they really don’t pay out for your treatment is a dollar attained by shareholders and CEOs, who typically just take most of their compensation in inventory. Stock prices are primarily based on how very little treatment the firm can shell out for.


Classic Medicare (element A & B) prices $164.90 a thirty day period, and handles healthcare facility expenditures and 80 per cent of non-hospital expenditures. But medical fees are this sort of that the 20 p.c hole in coverage can rapidly turn into ruinous. So the govt established up a regulated industry of Medigap supplements. Retirees can pay out further rates to private insurance coverage providers to include the last 20 percent, and cap out-of-pocket fees.

Medigap strategies can expense as tiny as $75 a month, but can expense hundreds more, relying on the program, your age, gender, and regardless of whether you smoke. Not like Medicare Advantage, nonetheless, these Medigap programs are intensely regulated.

It is this gap for which New York Metropolis union retirees over age 65 are coated by the city’s Senior Care prepare. The metropolis also pays the every month premiums for regular Medicare, so retirees get high quality-totally free coverage.

Numbers Don’t Insert UP

States and municipalities have progressively tried out to put retirees into Medicare Advantage designs the moment they arrive at age 65. Wherever unions have fought the transform, as in Washington point out and Vermont, they have been ready to avoid the switch. But in New York Town, retirees have been combating not just the city but also their possess unions to continue to keep from currently being shunted into a for-financial gain strategy.

Community workforce in New York City have presented up a good deal above the decades to keep their ironclad retiree health care protection, and it paid out off right up until now. Along with having to pay regular Medicare rates, the town pays for a wrap-all-around health supplement termed Senior Treatment that picks up almost all expenditures not coated by Medicare, along with drug advantages.

Leaders of District Council 37 and the UFT assert the Medicare Edge prepare will save dollars and give the very same coverage. But the quantities don’t incorporate up, said Len Rodberg, a retired City University of New York overall health coverage expert who will be affected by the transform. “Medicare Gain begins out 20 per cent beneath what Medicare does, in terms of precise funds accessible to spend on health treatment,” Rodberg explained.

Traditional Medicare pays 3 per cent overhead. By contrast, Medicare Benefit programs have to make a profit for shareholders, and they also spend large executive salaries and manage massive staffs to defend their financial gain margins by delaying and denying care. In these for-profit ideas, Rodberg reported, “basically anything that costs revenue would need pre-acceptance.”

MLC leaders explained their consultants instructed them the change would be picked up by the federal governing administration, Rodberg claimed. But although the federal governing administration utilised to subsidize for-profit Medicare Benefit ideas 20 p.c around what they paid out for regular Medicare people, that subsidy is now down to 2 p.c.

Medicare Gain designs also slash fees by contracting with sure providers. This suggests the coverage firm will only pay back for care presented by certain medical doctors or hospitals. For retirees who go to states with spotty protection, Rodberg reported, “suddenly their Medicare card won’t perform, cause they are in Medicare Advantage, not Medicare.”

Brief Reaction

Retired trainer Gloria Brandman listened to about the improve in 2021 from close friends in PSC-CUNY, the union of college and staff members at the Town College of New York. She and other instructor retirees swung into action, keeping a webinar that drew 400 people today. The recording of the webinar circulated greatly, foremost to a whirlwind of protest which forced UFT’s president, Michael Mulgrew, to maintain a city corridor where by he attempted to provide the change.

Retirees from the instructors, AFSCME, and many uniformed assistance unions shaped a Cross-Union Retirees Arranging Committee to battle. Brandman and other CROC activists hounded recently elected Mayor Eric Adams at every single option.

They rallied when the MLC fulfilled: “We marched on the most popular day of the 12 months,” Brandman recalled. They held a Valentine’s Day “Don’t Break Our Hearts, Mayor Adams” occasion.

In October they held a “Halloween Horror” press meeting, stating “Mayor Adams, You are Scaring Us to Death.” (“Death masks optional,” said the invitation flier).

NO MAGIC Price savings

A town regulation demands that all the wellness care possibilities the metropolis gives be premium-absolutely free. That law turned out to be an critical backstop, and the NYC Business of Public Service Retirees sued to get it enforced. A decide agreed that it was from the law for the city to cost seniors an excess $191 for every thirty day period to remain in primary Medicare.

So Adams and the MLC management requested the City Council to modify the regulation. They walked into a excitement observed. Soon after vigorous protests and reams of testimony from retirees and active union associates objecting to the change—which could have undermined energetic members’ overall health treatment as well—the Metropolis Council declined to change the law.

In her testimony in advance of the council, Jen Gaboury, PSC chapter chair at Hunter Faculty stated, “We know these ‘savings’ do not appear from some brand of non-public enterprise magic. If you get this revenue, you will be denying treatment and/or delaying treatment method to your have men and women, older city employees.”


Section of the problem is that the unions developed a $600 million gap in the final round of contracts and they’re making an attempt to plug it now. They negotiated to use a well being care stabilization fund, built to equalize charges among well being strategies for active members, to bolster wage improves. Now the fund is broke and that threatens to elevate health care fees for energetic associates.

At the Town Council hearings, PSC-CUNY proposed a way out of this mess. Retired professor James Perlstein described it in his testimony: “(a) Redirect funds the City retains in reserve to bridge the Municipal Labor Committee Stabilization Fund for a few many years, (b) Generate a stakeholders commission charged with locating a path to management well being treatment spending, with clinic pricing as a priority, and (c) Develop a sustainable system for funding City wellness coverage.” PSC also proposed that New York City’s quite profitable non-revenue hospitals contribute, because they really don’t pay taxes.

None of these ways have been taken, so far. In its place, city directors continue to press Medicare Advantage. “The city’s taken a hardball posture that it won’t negotiate new contracts until finally the unions conserve them $600 million by transferring forward with Medicare Gain system,” claimed Rodberg in February. The town promises to replenish the stabilization fund with the approximated $600 million it will help you save from the switch.

AFSCME DC 37 customers have been doing the job for 18 months with out a contract. Not too long ago the town and the union inked a tentative arrangement with raises that really do not even retain up with inflation. Other city unions item that this reduced bar will harm their negotiations, due to the fact the metropolis expects the 1st agreement settled by a main city union to set a pattern which the other municipal unions will mostly follow.

And whilst customers will get to vote on the agreement, they won’t be capable to vote on the retiree overall health treatment concession their union agreed to driving closed doors. It would seem that as a affliction for settling, the dominant MLC unions agreed to impose what the retirees contact “the nuclear selection,” intentionally misreading the metropolis law they experimented with to adjust, and generating Medicare Benefit the only choice for retirees.

Any retiree who would like to continue to be in common Medicare would have to pay out for all of their protection, as if they had no union at all.