New York, NY – On Wednesday, December 21, a rally was held in lower Manhattan. A large crowd of municipal retirees and supporters marched from UFT headquarters at 52 Broadway to the Municipal Labor Committee offices at 55 Water Street. Holding signs such as “Medicare ‘Advantage’ Is A Rip-Off’” and “Protect Administrative Code 12-126, the group, many of whom were elderly, were determined to make their voices heard.
At issue is something crucial to the retirees’ lives: their healthcare. Currently, they have traditional Medicare and a supplement, Senior Care. But the City has the plan to shift its 250,000 retired workers to the privatized and for-profit Medicare Advantage plan, claiming that the current arrangement is financially unsustainable. The City and the Municipal Labor Committee want the City Council to change Administrative Code 12-126, which guarantees health insurance to municipal employees, retirees, and their dependents. Mayor Adams and UFT President Michael Mulgrew, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, and Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association President Harry Nespoli, all-powerful union figures, support the change. But the retirees are not having it.
At the rally, Sarah Shapiro, a UFT Retiree, and founder/activist with CROC- the Cross-union Retirees Organizing Committee said, “Retirees have fought back in the courts and in the streets, and we are winning. Michael Mulgrew needs to listen and represent us UFT Retirees. It is his job to protect our long-earned healthcare and not diminish and give it away. Maybe you’ve forgotten what your role is, Mike, so we’re here to remind you.”
Dr. Donald Moore spoke about the pitfalls of Medicare Advantage Plans and enumerated the horrors and difficulties physicians experience causing many to leave advantage plans. “For retirees, these privatized plans would diminish our healthcare due to the need for pre-authorizations that delay and deny needed procedures. And for people living out of state, it would mean limited availability of doctors.”
Evie Rich, a retired municipal worker, spoke about her recently published article in The Amsterdam Press, “Time to Stand Up and Go Tell It on the Mountain!”
“The change (that the City wants to make) in Code 12-126… challenges a racist healthcare system that has always denied Black and brown people access to quality healthcare.
One in four African American families has a net worth of zero! The imposition of the Medicare Advantage plan would create a two-tiered healthcare apparatus dominated by women and low-income families. In a forced transfer to a Medicare Advantage Plan, Latinx and African Americans will be denied the care we need.”
As retired teacher Gloria Brandman puts it, “Municipal retirees have been fighting for over a year against the City’s plan to move them to a less costly Medicare Advantage plan, well-documented to deliver inferior healthcare, and riddled with fraud, overcharges, inefficiencies, and profiteering. This will be a drain on the American taxpayer, unlike the retirees’ current traditional Medicare plan with the supplement, Senior Care.
While two lawsuits prohibited the City from making this switch based on NYC law, the most representative NYC municipal unions, the UFT and DC 37, in concert with the City, are punting by pressuring the City Council to make a change in Administrative Code 12-126 that would not only negatively affect retirees but would diminish current city workers’ health benefits as well. The City Council has, to date, resisted this change, and as a result, the City and the MLC (Municipal Labor Committee) have called upon a so-called arbitrator, with no authority in the matter, who weighed in with a publicly disseminated, “Opinion and Award” statement masquerading as a legal decision. Martin Scheineman has told the City Council they’d better change Administration Code 12-126 the way the City wants or else retirees will be transferred into a Medicare Advantage Plan with no choice at all.
Retiree attempts to have the City consider healthcare cost savings based on inefficiencies and alternate funding sources have fallen on deaf ears.”
City Council Member Gale Brewer weighed in on the matter on Twitter, saying, “I have been an early supporter of the city retirees who are concerned about maintaining their current health providers and not having insurance companies be gatekeepers. Medicare Advantage plans give private insurers the power to overrule primary care physicians – and to say which procedures will be permitted…keeping their current insurance plan, Senior Care, is critical in retaining access to their doctors and ensuring continuity of care.”
The NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees has already won two court cases against the City’s attempt to force retirees to pay close to $200 a month to keep their Senior Care plan. Despite the arbitrator’s ruling, which Brandman calls out for being illegitimate, those whose lives will be impacted by future court decisions continue to fight for what was promised.