The News Journal | Opinion | by Elisa Diller and Connie Merlet
This is an open letter to Gov. John Carney about health care benefits for State of Delaware retirees and employees.
Dear Gov. John Carney:
During your recent budget address, you seemed to be surprised that healthcare costs money. A lot of money. We are not surprised. We know that health care is expensive and that as a benefit it is just as important to most state workers as their pension plan. Most current retirees accepted the low state wages in return for decent health care benefits. As you found out last summer, it’s really important to retirees who were promised those health care benefits. The fact that we would not accept the move into Medicare Advantage and took the State of Delaware to court to stop it is an indication of how serious we are about keeping the benefits promised to us.
But we also want a commitment to current employees that health care benefits will be there for them too. We know that employees are often unaware of how much they will need their health care benefits as they age. We know that high deductible health care plans sound great when you don’t need them. But it is when you can’t outrun the health problems that you need those healthcare benefits. So, we are watching as you “survey” state employees about the “modernization” of their healthcare benefits. We know that benefits choice is often code for benefits reduction even if employees are not yet aware of that fact.
One of the benefits of growing older is that you’ve seen it before. And we do not like what we are seeing. This survey is just a thinly veiled attempt to cut benefits, especially employee health care benefits. We do not appreciate comments about how much retiree health care costs and how it means that more money can’t go into employee paychecks. Retired state workers, some of whom made so little that they qualified for food stamps, need those health care benefits. Stop trying to pit current employees against retirees. It’s an old trope used by employers. We are not having it.
We would like to point out a couple of things:
- You know that the federal government covers 80% of our health care through Original Medicare. We paid for that health care for decades through our employment and continue to pay a monthly Medicare premium.
- You know that the State of Delaware is providing a Medicare Supplemental Plan that covers only the other 20% of our health care. This is what we worked for, what we received when we retired, and what we want to keep.
- You know that the State of Delaware has never paid high wages to employees or provided regular pension increases. As a matter of fact, there were no increases to base pensions during these years: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.
- You know that the Medicare Advantage plan that you proposed included 2,030 pre- authorizations for tests, procedures, and medication. As a matter of fact, a list of what didn’t require preauthorization would be quite short. And that Medicare Advantage plans will enrich the coffers of private insurance companies on the back of your retirees by privatizing one of the best federal programs ever created.
So, if these grumpy geezers have goaded you and gotten your goat on health care benefits — good for us. Because we are going to keep at it. Not just for us, but for the people who will need these benefits in the future. Remember, the RISE in RISE Delaware stands for Retirees Investing in Society Equity. So do not even try to play the division card between retirees and current employees. We are watching and listening, and are quite able to respond to half-truths. We refused to be the canaries in the coal mine for health care cuts last year, we will do everything that we can to make sure health care benefits are maintained for current employees who we know will need it the in the future.
Elisa Diller and Connie Merlet are founding members of RISE Delaware.