WHITE PLAINS -- Like many who choose careers in public service, Phil Robbins joined the White Plains Fire Department in 1970 in part because "the benefits were good."
"The pay wasn't great," said Robbins, who retired in 1990, "but you knew that if you retired after 20 years you'd get free health care."
In a move critics say was made without public discussion, the Common Council voted unanimously last month to require retired city employees with 20 years of service who were hired before July 1, 1995, to pay 15 percent of their health insurance costs.
The change will affect about 640 retirees, who will pay between $661 and $2,395 a year, depending on their health-care plan.
Current administrative and appointed employees and elected officials are also being assessed 15 percent.
While the city says the measure saves money in a difficult budget year, retirees and union leaders say it's an underhanded act of betrayal.
"Those weren't the terms I signed up for or retired under," said Walter Holubis, a police officer for 34 years. "It's not right for the city to do this to me now. I held up my end of the bargain, they should hold up theirs."
Despite "deep reservations," Mayor Adam Bradley voted for the measure.
"My reservations were mitigated by my commitment and hope to find alternative health insurance plans that will require a much smaller, or no contribution by retirees," he said through a spokeswoman.
Council President Thomas Roach, who proposed the change, said he would welcome such a plan.
Fire union President Joseph Carrier and his brother James, who heads the police union, said many retirees are now senior citizens on fixed incomes. They said the city used the benefit as a recruiting tool for years.
The Carriers said their unions are considering legal action against the city.
So is attorney Al Pirro, who said he had been contacted by a number of city retirees.
"We believe that this violates the City Charter, and that the council does not have the authority to do this," he said. "We intend to commence legal action to stop this."
Retired firefighter Bob Lyons, who had triple-bypass heart surgery in 1992 and drives a school bus to make ends meet, said the added cost may force him to move.
"I'm already living paycheck to paycheck," he said. "Now I don't know if I can still afford to see my heart doctor. It's not right."
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 5, 2009
GOVERNOR PATERSON ISSUES EXECUTIVE ORDER CREATING TASK FORCE ON PUBLIC RETIREE HEALTH BENEFITS
Task Force to Study Ways to Ensure Preservation of Quality Retiree Health Care; Address Financial Burdens on State and Local Governments
Appoints Richard A. Berman as Chairman of 15-Member Task Force
Governor David A. Paterson issued an Executive Order establishing the New York State Task Force on Public Retiree Health Benefits. The Task Force will study health care benefits provided to employees of the State and local governments in New York by specifically addressing the preservation of quality retiree health care, and ways to make health care more affordable for local governments.
Governor Paterson also announced the appointment of Richard A. Berman as Chairman of the Task Force. Mr. Berman has extensive experience in health policy and State government. He served in the administration of Governor Hugh Carey as director of the New York State Office of Health Systems Management and as Director of the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. Since then, he has been a management consultant with McKinsey and Company, the Executive Vice President at the New York University Medical Center, and Chair of the Westchester Medical Center. Mr. Berman presently serves as President of Manhattanville College, a position he has held since 1995.
“During these challenging economic times, we must continue to ensure that retirees receive quality health benefits, while also searching for innovative ways to control health care costs,” said Governor Paterson. “I would like to thank Richard Berman for accepting the role of studying the State’s public retiree health benefits system. Richard’s experience in both the public and private sectors will be a tremendous asset to the Task Force in looking at ways to reform the current system. I look forward to reviewing the recommendations and to working with stakeholders to addressing these difficult issues.”
The Task Force will gather information on benefits received by public retirees and will explore policy approaches to improving the current system of public retiree health benefits to advance goals such as maintaining quality and affordable health coverage for retirees, ensuring that retirees are treated equitably and fairly, limiting government health care costs, and maintaining sufficient flexibility for health care benefit management by the State and localities.
The Task Force will be comprised of representatives from New York State agencies including the Department of Civil Service, the Department of Health, the Office for the Aging, the Division of Budget and the Insurance Department, and the Governor will ask the New York State Comptroller, the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Majority Leader to make appointments as well. In addition to representatives from State government, the Task Force will include representatives from labor unions, retiree groups and local governments.
The creation of this Task Force fulfills a promise made by Governor Paterson following the veto of a bill in August 2008 that would have established a similar body through legislation. In his veto message, the Governor supported the need to examine this issue in greater detail, but expressed concern that the Task Force that would have been established through the legislation would not provide appropriate representation for interested parties.
The Task Force will submit recommendations to the Governor on or before June 1, 2009, or at a later date if selected by a majority of the Task Force.
EXECUTIVE ORDER March 15, 2009
NO 15: ESTABLISHING A TASK FORCE ON PUBLIC EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT HEALTH CARE BENEFITS
WHEREAS, it is in the interest of all New Yorkers that the State and local governments provide retirees receiving health care benefits with quality and affordable health care; and
WHEREAS, many retirees have expressed concern that their health benefits will be singled out for reduction during difficult fiscal times; and
WHEREAS, health care costs have consistently grown faster than the rate of inflation in recent years, straining the finances of public employers; and
WHEREAS, Government Accounting Standards Bulletin (GASB) 45 requires greater disclosure on public entities’ financial statements of the their future health care liabilities to retired employees, and failure to properly account for these liabilities could potentially impact the State’s or localities’ financial rating; and
WHEREAS, there is a need for a dispassionate and informed study of this issue, which will allow for compilation of relevant background information; sharing of viewpoints between interested parties; exploration and evaluation of possible reform proposals; and efforts to reach consensus and make recommendations on relevant issues.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, David A. Paterson, Governor of the State of New York, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the State of New York, including section six of the Executive Law, do hereby order as follows:
1. There is hereby established the New York State Task Force on Public Retiree Health Care Benefits, to examine the present status of, and policy options for, health benefits received by retirees that were employed by the State, localities, public benefit corporations and other public employers.
2. The Task Force shall be comprised of the following fifteen members, appointed by the Governor as follows:
- The Chair of the Task Force, who shall be selected by the Governor;
- The Commissioner of Civil Service or his or her designee;
- The Commissioner of Health or his or her designee;
- The Director of the Office for the Aging or his or her designee;
- The Director of the Division of Budget or his or her designee;
- The Superintendent of Insurance or his or her designee;
- One member upon the recommendation of the New York State Comptroller, or his or her designee;
- One member upon the recommendation of the Speaker of the Assembly or his or her designee;
- One member upon the recommendation of the Temporary President of the Senate or his or her designee;
- Two members upon the recommendation of the New York State AFL-CIO;
- One member upon the joint recommendation of the New York State Retired Public Employees Association and Alliance of Public Retiree Organizations of New York;
- One member upon the recommendation of the New York State Association of Towns;
- One member upon the recommendation of the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials; and
- One member upon the recommendation of the New York State Association of Counties.
3. The Task Force shall investigate and research, except as to the City of New York and any employee covered by Chapter 729 of the laws of 1994 and subsequent statutes that extended its terms, the provision of health care coverage to public employee retirees of the State and local governments, potential reforms that will further such goals as: maintaining quality and affordable coverage for retirees; ensuring that retirees are treated equitably and fairly; limiting government health care costs, including through more efficient provision of health care coverage; and maintaining sufficient flexibility for health care benefit management by the State and localities.
4. The Task Force shall look into all matters it deems relevant for such purposes, which shall include, but not be limited to:
- the level and cost of benefits received by New York State public employees, including disparities between various recipients;
- the degree to which those benefits have been impacted by difficult fiscal times, and the subject of efforts at diminution by public employers;
- the current legal framework governing retiree health benefits, and any limitations in it;
- potential avenues for addressing rising health care costs;
- the impact of public accounting standard GASB 45; and
- the benefits and problems of proposals for reform, including that presented in S.6457/A.9393 (2008).
5. A majority of the total members of the Task Force who have been nominated and appointed shall constitute a quorum, and all recommendations of the Task Force shall require approval of a majority of the total members of the Task Force who have been nominated and appointed. The Task Force may meet in person or by telephone, and may hold meetings to discuss issues even in the absence of a quorum. Members of the Task Force shall serve without compensation but shall be reimbursed for all actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties. No member of the Task Force shall be disqualified from holding any public office or employment, nor shall he or she forfeit any such office or employment by virtue of his or her appointment hereunder.
6. Every agency, department, office, division, public authority or political subdivision of the State shall cooperate with the Task Force and furnish such information and assistance as the Task Force determines is reasonably necessary to accomplish its purposes. Staff support for the Task Force shall be provided by the State agencies that serve on the Task Force, and by the Executive Chamber.
- The Task Force may consult with other interested parties, including members of the legislature, representatives of organized labor not represented on the Task Force such as uniformed public employees and teachers, other government associations such as the School Boards Association and Government Finance Officers Association, academics and experts in public policy.
8. The Task Force shall issue a final report on or before June 1, 2009, or on such later date as is set by a majority of the Task Force, setting forth its findings and conclusions and making such recommendations as it shall deem necessary and proper. In addition, the Task Force shall issue such interim reports as it shall deem necessary.
9. The Task Force shall strive to make its recommendations by consensus wherever possible. To the extent that the Task Force cannot achieve consensus on particular recommendations, it may in its report set forth recommendations as to which there is disagreement, and allow those dissenting from the recommendations to state the basis for such disagreement.
10. The Task Force’s report may include proposals for legislation that it believes would advance the goals of the Task Force, except that no such proposals shall address the City of New York or any employee covered by Chapter 729 of the laws of 1994 or any subsequent statute that extended its terms. No such proposals should be made that would require the violation of a collective bargaining agreement currently in force.
G I V E N under my hand and the Privy Seal of the State in the City of Albany this twentieth day of February in the year two thousand nine.
David A. Paterson Lawrence Schwartz
Governor Secretary to the Governor
New York State Health Insurance Program enrollees
NYSHIP Dependent Eligibility Verification Project
The Department of Civil Service reminds us that the employer-sponsored health insurance coverage provided through the New York State Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP) is a valuable benefit, but it is also costly to provide. It becomes more costly for everyone when NYSHIP provides benefits to individuals who are not eligible for coverage.
In 2009, NYSHIP will conduct a Dependent Eligibility Verification Project to help ensure that every participant receiving benefits is entitled to them. During the course of the project, NYSHIP enrollees with family coverage will be required to provide proof of their dependents’ eligibility as of February 1, 2009. It is very important that enrollees respond to all requests because failure to do so will result in the dependent’s removal from coverage. In addition to these consequences, the Department reserves the right to recover payment from the enrollee for claims paid on behalf of any dependent determined to be ineligible and to pursue possible civil/criminal action. The Department has contracted with Michigan-based Budco Health Service Solutions (Budco), a national leader in providing dependent verification and eligibility services, to administer the project
What to expect
Special Amnesty Period A Special Amnesty Period will be offered to enrollees to allow for the removal of ineligible dependents before the verification project begins. Enrollees who use this opportunity can avoid having to pay back any claims paid on behalf of an ineligible dependent as well as possible legal action. In early to mid April, Budco will mail packets of information to all NYSHIP enrollees with family coverage regarding the Special Amnesty Period. Enrollees must review all information thoroughly and report any ineligible dependents directly to Budco no later than June 12, 2009. This is the ONLY opportunity to remove ineligible dependents without possible penalty.
Eligibility Verification After the Special Amnesty Period ends, Eligibility verification packets will be mailed to enrollees --- probably mailed during July and August 2009. Enrollees will be required to provide documentation of the eligibility for coverage under NYSHIP for each dependent not removed during the Special Amnesty Period. The packet will include a list of the enrollee’s dependents, an eligibility worksheet to help determine whether dependents are eligible under NYSHIP, a list of common eligible proof documents and instructions and deadlines to submit them.
Go to http://www.cs.state.ny.us/nyshipeligibilityproject/index.cfm for the most up-to-date Dependent Eligibility Verification Project information. Bookmark the page and visit it periodically for the most current information.
Members enrolled in NYSHIP should be alert to these mailings and carefully follow the instructions and deadlines.