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

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