America’s Retirees Working Hard to Protect Health Care Benefits

Filed under Social Issues

(ARA) – Retirees and baby boomers throughout the nation are wondering with great trepidation, what would happen to them if their health care coverage were simply taken away?

Many fear that the current economic crisis in America will speed up that process. It has already occurred with retirees of some of America’s largest corporations, and municipalities are threatening to follow suit. According to Paul Miller, executive director of the national retiree advocacy group, ProtectSeniors.Org, the situation is as dire as the bailout was for the auto industry, Wall Street and America’s major banks.

“There are currently an estimated 18.5 million American retirees and baby boomers in the United States with health benefits being significantly threatened,” Miller says. “If cancelled by the corporations they once worked for, most would be dumped into the federal and state healthcare systems. In effect, this means their former employers would be getting an additional back-door federal bailout at the expense of the taxpayer.”

The health care coverage Miller is referring to is earned retiree benefits that tens of millions of Americans earned and paid for during their working years. He says that for whatever reason, many corporations never actually set that money aside and are using the current financial turmoil to threaten the cancellation and further reduction of these benefits.

Much of his organization’s hope is placed on a bipartisan legislative proposal  titled the Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act in the 110th Congress — which gained the support of 88 bipartisan co-sponsors. The bill would prohibit employers from making post-retirement cancellations or reductions of health benefits that retirees had earned.

“Companies would be made to live up to the financial commitments made to their employees and retirees, and most importantly, would do so without placing mandates on the employers as to what health plans they provide or monetary ceilings on the amount of health benefits”, Miller says.

Behind its efforts, has harnessed the support of retirees from 285 companies, 36 unions, 76 municipal, state and federal retiree groups, in addition to 14 retiree associations.

“Lately, economists, talk show hosts, journalists and even politicians have been blaming America’s retirees and union workers for the economic downturn, calling our earned retirement health coverage legacy costs and burdensome,” says C. William Jones, a retiree from Verizon Communications and president of the 100,000-member Association of BellTel Retirees. “I, and tens of millions of retirees like me, worked decades to earn those benefits, taking less pay and forgoing days off to fund them. For companies to now imply that retirees are a liability to them and America is morally offensive and absolutely inaccurate.”

Advocates of the legislation argue that over many years, companies used the promise of post-employment health care coverage to induce employees to stay with that employer or, in some cases, to take early retirement. Companies did not agree to pay retiree benefits out of the goodness of their hearts or social well-being; there were significant financial benefits and tax breaks for them. They further explain that employers benefited financially by not having to pay Social Security and payroll taxes on these benefits.

“Funding these benefits could be deferred by companies in years when earnings were low, unlike payroll that must be paid on time,” Jones says. “Since pensions are based on a percentage of wages, companies also saved on long-term pension costs.”

University Of Alabama School Of Law Professor Dr. Norman Stein, an expert on the nation’s Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) pension law testified in favor of the proposal at a congressional hearing in the fall, saying Congress should pass legislation “that would make it difficult or perhaps impossible for an employer to terminate retiree health benefits after an employee has retired.” The long time advisor to AARP and the Pension Rights Center argued, “Congress could try to level the playing field for employees with clear, reasonable and consistent rules.”

Just last year the U.S. Supreme Court and ‘Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that it is legal for companies to reduce or eliminate earned health benefits for retirees ages 65 and over, due to a loophole in the ERISA pension laws.

Acting to close that loophole with legislation to protect America’s retirees, Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) says, “Unlike pension plans, ERISA does not impose mandatory ‘vesting’ requirements with respect to health benefits. Consequently, many courts have upheld that there is no legal protection for employees. (The Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act) remedies this and ensures that the reasonable health benefit expectations of retirees from ERISA-sponsored regulated group health plans are fulfilled.”

“America’s retirees are not here asking for a handout or a bailout,” Miller says. “We merely want companies to live up to the promises they made. Give us the health benefits we earned and paid for over decades of loyal service.”

Article courtesy of ARA contet

Healthcare War Hits America’s Retirees Hard

Filed under Social Issues

(ARA) – Twenty million American retirees are among the largest group of casualties in the war being waged by their former corporate employers against workers’ and retirees’ earned heath care benefits.

This tug of war over the future of retiree health benefits is by no means a mere skirmish, but one affecting as much as 40 percent of Americans ages 60 and over, and tens-of-billions of dollars in health costs each year.

Major American corporations have taken the stance that they can no longer afford to stay competitive and sell their products and services in a global economy while paying benefits to retirees, even if these were contractual commitments made to retirees in their working years.

Airlines say they can not pay jet fuel costs and retirees’ health benefits and survive, and American auto manufacturers say that hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of the cost of each domestically made vehicle goes to paying worker and retiree health benefits.

Turning To the Courts:

Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, GM stated in writing to workers that they would pay for certain medical benefits “for your lifetime.” In the late 1980’s, GM made major changes to their medical plans, requiring contributions and higher deductibles for 84,000 retirees.

For 10 years, the battle was fought in the courts. The lower courts found in favor of the retirees. GM appealed. The federal district courts found in favor of GM. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court who dealt the retirees a staggering loss.

Auto makers had a clause in their health care agreement with the workers: “we reserve the right to amend, modify, suspend or terminate …”

Currently a case by retirees from Caterpillar Inc. is winding its way through the U.S. District Court in Nashville, Tenn., charging that Caterpillar’s labor contracts and benefit plans provided retiree’s health care coverage “continued for his or her lifetime at no cost.”

According to Elizabeth Alexander, a lawyer for the retirees, workers were “assured free lifetime health care coverage.”

In October 2004, Caterpillar began charging retirees’ monthly premium costs ranging from $134 to $280 per month for health benefits. The lawsuit seeks to end these charges and restore money already charged. Retirees Best Chance — Capitol Hill:

The lead retiree advocacy group turning up the heat Washington, D.C, is ProtectSeniors.Org, seeking an amendment to the ERISA pension laws to make it illegal for an employer to either reduce or cancel earned health benefits after an employee has retired. The Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act (HR 1322), is currently cosponsored by 67 members of Congress. HR1322 would also require corporations who have already slashed these earned benefits to reinstate them to their former workers.

Paul Miller, executive director and chief lobbyist for ProtectSeniors.Org says, “In the modern era we see major corporations paying CEO’s tens-of-millions of dollars while slashing retiree health benefits. For companies claiming they can’t afford to compete or pay these benefits because of foreign competition, I say reexamine bloated executive compensation levels.”

Miller’s Capitol Hill-based group was formed in 2006 by retirees of the Bell System whose “free lifetime health benefits” were rapidly eroding, forcing retirees to downsize their retirement lifestyle, sell family homes or take on part time jobs.

In just one year since its founding, ProtectSeniors.Org has grown to include more than 45,000 retirees from over 35 industries and companies. Jim Casey, a Virginia retiree and a co-founder of the group says, “For far too long retirees have allowed themselves to be the victim, trusting our former employer would be there for us. Two out of every five retirees in America have now either completely lost or had their health benefits greatly diminished. On their behalf, we are sending up an SOS.”

“As America’s largest voting block, retirees and baby boomers no longer want lip service from Washington, we need action to make it illegal for companies to steal retirees’ earned benefits,” says Casey. “We need more retirees to join us in the fight for their own economic protection.”

Article courtesy of ARAcontent

Aging Baby Boomers Face Healthcare Shortage

Filed under Social Issues

(ARA) – Every day, almost 11,000 baby boomers turn 50. Born between 1946 and 1964, aging baby boomers are the fastest growing segment of the United States population. By 2030, the number of people ages 65 and older will nearly double to 71.5 million, or 20 percent of the population.

“Today, Medicare enrollees with multiple chronic illnesses account for 70 percent of health care expenditures,” says Dr. Kyle Allen, chief of the division of geriatric medicine and medical director of post-acute and senior services at Summa Health System in Akron, Ohio. “Caring for the elderly oftentimes becomes very complicated because the patients have an average of 13 doctors and fill 50 prescriptions each year.”

At the same time the population of people over 65 is increasing, the U.S. is also facing a geriatrician shortage. A geriatrician is a specially-trained doctor who helps to prevent and manage older adults’ multiple health concerns. Typically, these doctors are board certified in internal medicine or family practice with extra training in a geriatric medicine fellowship.

In 2005, there was only one geriatrician for every 5,000 Americans 65 and older. The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) estimates that at least 36,000 geriatricians will be needed in the next 20 years. In planning for this shortage, Summa Health System is offering two fellowship programs in geriatric medicine to help train doctors to become leaders in the field.

Since 2001, Summa Health System has partnered with the Cleveland Clinic to offer a joint Geriatric Medicine Fellowship Program, which trains doctors to become leaders in the field of geriatrics. The program consists of one year of clinical training with an optional second year of research. In addition to the Geriatric Medicine Fellowship, Summa also offers a Palliative Care Fellowship Program, which includes extensive training in both hospice and palliative medicine. The fellows work closely with Summa’s geriatricians, and this enables them to coordinate care and also understand the aging process and complexity of illnesses.

This type of training is necessary for doctors throughout the country. “With the growing aging population, we’re facing a vast need for young people to become geriatricians,” states Dr. Allen. “As they live longer, baby boomers are rapidly placing demands on the healthcare system.”

Summa Health System has created numerous programs aimed at helping the senior population and their families. Dr. Allen helped start the first Acute Care for Elders (ACE) unit in the country, which is specifically designed to help patients maintain function and maximize their independence during hospitalization. The ACE unit’s home-like atmosphere features carpeted patient rooms with artwork, curtains and lighting designed especially for older adults. Since the ACE unit opened in 1994, health systems from around the country have visited Summa to learn more about the ACE model of care. More than 40 units have been created as a result of these visits.

Other Summa programs, such as the Center for Senior Health, specialize in coordinating every aspect of an older adult’s care in order to preserve independence and help the patient and their family cope with the medical, emotional and social problems commonly associated with aging. Geriatricians, geriatric-certified advanced practice nurses and social workers who have special training, testing and certification in the care of older adults meet with each patient and their family to develop individualized care plans addressing every aspect of their well-being. This team- based model maximizes resources with the goal of providing collaborative care to cover all aspects of patients’ treatment.

“The overall goal of the geriatric programs at Summa Health System is to improve our patients’ health and independence,” says Dr. Allen. “We have found this to be cost effective and at the same time, we are able to meet the community’s needs and also address the challenges that will arise as our population gets older.”

Article courtesy of ARAcontent