Delaware retired state workers challenge switch to Medicare Advantage

WDEL | by Mark Fowser

Medicare open enrollment is creating a lot of concern for thousands of retirees who worked for the State of Delaware, thanks to a decision made months ago that many are just now finding out about.

It’s a decision with wide-ranging ramifications.

Tuesday, state retirees and their spouses, family members and supporters gathered at the City County Building in Wilmington for a rally to show and organize opposition to the switch to Highmark Medicare Advantage from their negotiated benefits packages.

Already, organizers opposed to the switch have formed RISE Delaware and have gone to court. Lawmakers and state officials have held, or are planning to hold, community meetings to hear questions and concerns about the plan.

According to former State Senator Karen Peterson, who worked for many years with the Delaware Department of Labor before she was elected, the change requires pre-authorization for hundreds of medical decisions.

“We pay no copays now – no copay, no co-insurance, no cost-sharing, none of that. Under this new plan, there are 2,030 items that will require pre-authorization. They told us there would be some. Well, 2,030 is way more than some. That includes procedures, prescription drugs and so forth,” Peterson said.

The decision to switch was made by the State Employee Benefits Committee. Many retirees are just now finding out about the changes as decisions about enrollment need to be made.

Retired school teacher Pamela Waters said she counted on the benefits package that she negotiated being there for her in retirement.

“My contract specifically states Medicare, supplement, drug plan. It does not say ‘just healthcare,'” Waters said. “It was very specific, my contract. I expect the state to uphold that.”

Of the change, Waters said: “we can’t afford it.”

State Representative John Kowalko, D-Newark South, said he rejects the notion that Medicare Advantage is a contractually obligated “done deal,” and proceeding with it is a betrayal of state retirees – snow plow drivers, social workers, teachers, police officers, university and college employees and everyday staffers.

“These are just some of the people who have dedicated themselves to true public service, at a lower salary than the private sector, with the assurance that they will have benefits provided to them to ease their burdens during their hard-earned and well-deserved retirements,” Kowalko said. “And these are the people who this administration has chosen to abandon with a betrayal of trust and little if any remorse.”

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