A day after New York City Mayor Eric Adams officially signed the contract that will bind 250,000 municipal retirees to a privately run Medicare plan, protesters organized a cheeky rally outside city hall where they vowed that their efforts to prevent the process are not finished.
Their message to the mayor was tailored to fit April Fool’s Day: “Don’t Try to Fool Municipal Retirees.” Members of Cross-Union Retirees Organizing Committee (CROC) said that they have no plans to stop resisting the Adams’ administration decision through advocacy and forthcoming lawsuits.
The rally was the second this month in which retirees gathered to protest the healthcare savings plan. The first happened after labor leaders of New York City’s Municipal Labor Committee voted March 9 to approve the Aetna-run plan — a shift that will force many of the retirees to change their current healthcare in a way that many believe will be for the worse.
“Mayor Adams tells us that this new plan will be as good or better than what we have. Now Mayor Adams, tell us this: How can a better plan cost less money?” asked Gloria Brandman, a member of CROC.
City officials say that they hope to create $600 million in annual savings with the switch. But apprehensive retirees say that the Medicare Advantage plan will be more likely to deny coverage for certain medical services. A recent federal report found that instances where Medicare Advantage plans denied coverage requests that met Medicare coverage rules.
When the plan went for a vote before the city’s Municipal Labor Committee, the unions were split. Over 20 unions and locals in the MLC voted no, and some others abstained or didn’t show up for the vote, but the plan’s opponents were outweighed by largest unions on the committee, AFSCME District Council 37 and the New York United Federation of Teachers.
CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress has been one of the most ardently outspoken against the plan, and has pushed Mayor Adams to select “Option C” of the Aetna contract, a plan that would allow retirees to stay on traditional Medicare with no additional cost. Barbara Caress, a PSC member and health-policy professor at Baruch College, has said her analysis of Option C would save the city nearly $342 million. Asked about Option C, the mayor’s office referred Labor Press to an op-ed in which the Office of Labor Relations Commissioner Renee Campion said the approach would eliminate almost all the potential savings from Medicare Advantage and that the city would not be offering this option.
“The city will not save as much money, but it would be saving us from the uncertainty of inferior care,” said PSC member Cecelia McCall at the rally.
“I don’t want life and death decisions about me made by an algorithm. I want decisions about my health to be between me and my physician, not me, my physician and a third party,” she added.
The retirees are not without left-wing support in city government. Council-members Chris Marte and Alexa Avilés joined the rally to encourage the retiree to continue their fight.
“Healthcare should not be profit. Our bodies should not be profit. So I hope we stand together and we dismantle this capitalist system that is killing us,” Avilés told the retirees.
Sarah Shapiro, a spokesperson for CROC, said that the group is also hoping to get the Council
to take up a push for a new bill that would protect retiree healthcare.
“We have been on the street. We have been in the City Council. We have been in the courthouses. We have been everywhere resisting this for the last two years. And we won’t stop,” Shapiro told Labor Press.
Barring future lawsuits or legislative interventions, the five-year contract will go into effect Sept. 1.