CUNY union testifies against potential switch to Medicare Advantage healthcare plan

City retirees and union members testified Monday against a proposed change to an administrative code that would shift the healthcare plan for roughly 250,000 retirees to Medicare Advantage, a privatized version of the current healthcare plan. 

The city estimates the change from Medicare Advantage could provide $600 million in annual savings, but union reps charged it would do nothing more but harm the beneficiaries. 

“We talk about tearing off the band-aid to deal with healthcare savings, but the proposed change just applies a different Band-Aid while inflicting new wounds,” testified James Davis, president of the PSC/CUNY union. 

The PSC/CUNY expressed staunch opposition to charging retirees $192 monthly premiums by forcing retirees to choose between a private healthcare plan or sticking with their traditional plans by footing the premium.  

“It puts benefits for active workers at risk and makes it possible for the city to negotiate this in the future,” said Fran Clark,  spokesperson for PSC. “We are pushing an alternative plan.”

The PSC/CUNY union presented a plan that the union believe would buy the city time to develop a  solution to the city healthcare cost crisis. New York state is currently seeing the highest healthcare insurance inflation rate in the country. 

This alternative plan would also keep current premium-free retiree healthcare coverage for three years by redirecting funds that are currently being used to increase the reserves in the City’s Retiree Health Benefits Trust, according to the PSC/CUNY union. 

Marianne Pizzitola, president of NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees, testified that paying for premiums is impossible for many  low-income returnees. 

Screenshot via New York City Council, taken by Sarah Belle Lin

“Why should our retirees’ benefits be sold off? This is disgusting,” testified Michelle L. Robbins, a FDNY retiree who said she sees doctors four times a month for health issues she believes are related to 9/11.

Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37, the city’s largest municipal employees union, supports the proposed code change.

“Everyone wants to preserve healthcare, but how do we pay for it?,” Garrido testified. “We’ve managed to avoid this eight years.”

Garrido said he believes Medicare Advantage will give retirees another plan option if they elected to pay. He said negotiating this contract would be an unprecedented decision that is not available anywhere in the country.

Screenshot via New York City Council, taken by Sarah Belle Lin

Gloria Middletown, CWA Local 1180 president, also advocates for the proposed code change. Said Middleton: “For 40 years, the MLC has advocated for non-premiums. We are going to be future retirees ourselves. We are here today to make sure our retirees have a choice.”

Bronx City Council Member Eric Dinowitz rhetorically asked, “If Medicare Advantage is so great, why we wouldn’t we do it earlier?” Dinowitz said his constituents have told him overwhelmingly the proposed change feels like a quick and easy way to save money.

Health insurance for city retirees is currently premium free and provided with the city covering 20% of costs that Medicare does not pay with supplemental coverage. In 2021, a state judge ruled that city retirees need not pay a monthly premium for their healthcare costs. 

“It is true that healthcare costs are skyrocketing,” Davis said in his testimony. “But it is not true that Medicare Advantage is the only path to achieving savings for the city, or that premiums must be charged to retirees who remain enrolled in Senior Care or for active employee health insurance.”