In the past year, the city’s 250,000 retired municipal employees have understandably struggled with the city’s announcement to switch their healthcare from the existing Medicare plan to a new Medicare Advantage plan. As a City Council Member, I have heard from countless retirees who have raised questions and concerns (and opposition) regarding the impact that the switch would have on their ability to receive healthcare.
The people calling our offices are more than just former teachers, cops, firefighters, and sanitation workers. They’re also parents, grandparents, neighbors, community members, and everyday New Yorkers. Over the course of hundreds of conversations, one thing has been clear: the city should design a new plan that offers all retirees the option to keep their existing plan.
This will come with some challenges–including how to address rising costs in health care–but will ultimately honor our principle to protect both our past and present workers.
For those who have not followed the battle, several years ago, the prior Mayoral administration entered into an agreement to transition retired city employees from their existing healthcare to a Medicare Advantage plan. The switch would save the city money and help address skyrocketing costs, but would come with a risk to retirees’ existing healthcare coverage. While everyone understands the importance of reducing healthcare costs, this decision left many retirees rightfully concerned about their healthcare and what comes next.
Although the switch to Medicare Advantage will save the city money, it’s imperative that it doesn’t come at the expense of retirees’ healthcare plans. For instance, any new plan has to ensure that people who have decades-long relationships with their physician don’t need to find a new one. Additionally, many retirees have justifiable concerns that bureaucratic processes like prior authorization may interfere with medical care they need.
Understandably, retirees’ have organized to make their voices heard. While the retirees have won in court, litigation remains an ongoing and slow-moving process. At the City Council, there has been an effort to pass legislation to reverse the agreement the city made with the municipal unions to change healthcare for retirees. Yet, the proposed bill before the City Council does not resolve all of the complicated problems surrounding this issue. Legislating in a vacuum could have unforeseen consequences that lead to even more problems.
Rather than the city pursuing a legal challenge, we should all–the city, the union, and the retirees–come back to the table and build a new plan that must include an option to keep your existing healthcare. This approach is the best path not only to saving retirees healthcare, but ironing out solutions to critical questions that will only become more urgent as the years go by: How do we find a sustainable, long-term solution to skyrocketing costs? How do we ensure that current city employees don’t get inadvertently charged for healthcare? There are no quick and easy answers to these questions, but we certainly won’t arrive at a solution if we don’t even try.
Fundamentally, retirees are owed the healthcare they were promised. To repay their decades of service to our city with a lesser healthcare plan is beneath us as New Yorkers. Healthcare is a deeply personal and important issue to all Americans, and forcing people to switch plans - especially after being promised it throughout their careers- is unfair. If retirees believe that their current healthcare plan is indeed what works best for them, they should be able to keep it. It is that simple.
The retirees are rightfully standing up for what they have earned through years of work and they deserve to keep their health care plans.
Let’s honor our workforce by protecting those who served this city.
Keith Powers is the City Council Majority Leader, representing District 4