Thursday, October 2, 2008

More Mean Spirit At the KCATA

I should have known something was up when I got an announcement in the mail about a new dental plan being offered at Open Enrollment at the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority–where I was employed for fourteen years before taking an early retirement a few years ago. A cover letter said it was the second benefit mailing. I had not received a first but, after calling the HR department they did send me the mailing for retirees.

I was at first puzzled. The costs for all options for the coming year were considerably less than what I was currently paying. Then I finally noticed a line buried near the end,

“All retirees who are age 65 and/or eligible for Medicare Part B will no longer be eligible to participate in the KCATA provided insurance plan(s).”

I should explain that the ATU Local 1287 contract provides that the Authority will pay ninety percent of retiree health insurance until age 65. After that the ATA pays only the princely sum of 21.50 per month for reimbursement for Part B.

But there is a long standing practice of allowing Medicare retirees to continue carrying ATA group coverage if they pay the full cost of the plan. This is what I started doing last December, when I turned 65 and had to enroll in Medicare. I’ve been paying 835.17 every month this year for a “Retiree Over 65 + Spouse” Blue Cross HMO option.

That’s a hefty amount–especially considering my only regular income amounts to 900 a month (after Part B deduction) from Social Security. I chose this plan because my wife, Mary, is self-employed, about thirteen years away from Medicare, and would find it difficult to get a decent individual plan at any price. I’m far from the only retiree with a younger spouse, or dependent children at home, who has benefitted from the past practice of staying in the employer group.

ATA officials offer no explanation for this change other than it’s not guaranteed in contract language. Since they don’t save a penny by denying retirees the option to fully pay continued insurance it can only be understood as a mean-spirited sticking it to the retirees and their families.

The ATA bosses did not bother to inform the union in advance of this change. I’m pleased that Local 1287 president Willie Wilson is filing a grievance over this failure to negotiate over a such a major change in benefit practices.

Of course, the USA is the only industrialized country in the world where such health care issues exist. Everybody else has some form of universal coverage–and at a lot lower cost than we pay. Most European countries, along with Japan and Canada, enjoy longer life spans than we do.

There is legislation in congress to establish a “single-payer” health care system, similar to what works in Canada. Hundreds of unions have endorsed HR676. To learn more go to the web site maintained by the California Nurses

Bill Onasch
ATU Local 1287 retiree