Delaware officials change course, revert to old health plan for state retirees

The News Journal | by Meredith Newman

In a major reversal, Delaware officials voted on Monday to keep the current health care plan for state retirees for 2023.

The Carney administration had said for weeks the Medicare Advantage plan would be moving forward and could not be changed, even when lawmakers asked for a pause. But that changed last week. A Superior Court judge sided with state retirees in a lawsuit, temporarily blocking the Medicare Advantage plan from going into effect next year.

The State Employee Benefits Committee, to comply with the ruling, voted during its Monday meeting to extend the previous plan, Special Medicfill Supplement Plan, for another year.

It’s the latest major win for the group of state retirees who have been fighting this change since the summer. The lawsuit argued that the state failed to follow administrative procedures when implementing the change, particularly regarding transparency and allowing retirees to offer input.

Karen Peterson, a retired state senator, was one of the plaintiffs. In his ruling, Judge Calvin Scott ordered for a trial to be held to make a final determination on the future of the Medicare Advantage plan.

The Carney administration previously decided to move state retirees to a Medicare Advantage plan as a way to decrease the state’s ballooning unfunded liability. Estimates show it could grow to $33 billion by 2050.

The Delaware plan, being offered by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware, was set to go into effect in January.

Yet retirees were alarmed by this new plan. Many feared they would be forced to sign up for health insurance that could deny or delay care. Medicare Advantage plans have also faced robust criticism in recent months, including from the federal government.

A handful of lawmakers eventually came out against the Medicare Advantage plan, saying they felt they were misled by the Carney administration.Lawmakers were set to vote on legislation to provide more oversight to the transition process of moving to Medicare Advantage. But that bill is now irrelevant, given the SEBC vote on Monday.

The General Assembly announced after the Monday meeting that they have canceled the vote.

In this Medicfill plan, the rates for 2023 will be the same as the ones for this year. When the committee was voting to approve these rates, Claire DeMatteis, secretary of the Delaware Department of Human Resources, commented that these “rates also aren’t being decreased as they would have been under the Medicare Advantage plan.”

She also said 2,500 to 3,000 state retirees would have received a decrease in their monthly premiums, and nearly 500 people, who couldn’t afford Medicfill, signed up for Medicare Advantage. Organizers a part of RISEDelaware, the grassroots organization fighting this plan, have said they believe the Medicare Advantage plan could result in significant unexpected costs for retirees – especially since prior authorization would be a component.

Just minutes later, the committee faced public comment, which at times was blistering. More than 100 retirees attended the meeting virtually. While grateful the current plan was being extended, they condemned the actions of the state officials – and implored the committee to include retirees in its decision-making process.

Some retirees called the Medicare Advantage plan, and the decision-making process behind it, “screwed up,” “absurd” and “unconscionable.”

Retiree Lynda Hastings acknowledged how these last few months have been “awful” for both retirees and the state.

“Let’s not go through this again,” she said. “Include us please.”

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