LOWER MANHATTAN (PIX11) — It’s a proposed change in a key benefit that some 250,000 retired municipal workers receive, and on Monday, a crowd of them pushed back against the city’s plan to privatize their healthcare coverage, with a protest at City Hall.
Sarah Shapiro, a city work force retiree, summed up what she and so many more people like her don’t want to have to give up.
“We’ve always had traditional public Medicare, and a supplemental plan that the city pays for,” she explained.
That is scheduled to change on April 1 to a new, private plan, called Medicare Advantage Plus. The protesters said that the new plan, which would be administered by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and Emblem Health, will cost them about $191 per month.
“It stinks, it’s unfair, it’s inappropriate,” said Mike Stein, a retired municipal worker who was at the protest. “I don’t know how else to phrase that without using profanity.”
He’d worked as an EMT for the city for 26 years. Now, though, he’s concerned that under the city’s proposed change to healthcare benefits, he and his family may have to strain to pay for some medical issues that he’d helped patients with over the years.
Some retirees said that the new healthcare bill could be an unbearable financial burden for many of them or other retirees they know.
“It costs me if I want to stay where I am [for coverage], retiree Michelle Keller said at the protest.
Anthem spokesperson Alessandra Simkin said, in an email, that “the new plan will be offered to retirees at no cost to them. The premium they were referencing is related to what they will need to pay to keep their existing plan after the new plan is implemented.”
“We look forward to welcoming our retirees into the new NYC Medicare Advantage Plus plan,” Simkin continued, “which we are confident will deliver the high-quality healthcare they expect and deserve.”
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Administration created and negotiated the new healthcare plan, and Mayor Eric Adams said earlier this month that he intends to implement it. Adams has estimated that the change will save New York City taxpayers some $600 million.
Louie Uriando, who retired recently from the sanitation department for medical reasons, said that the taxpayer savings come with a cost.
“It’s coming from somewhere,” he said. “Off the backs of these poor people.”
Stein, the former EMT, agreed.
“I don’t know the precise details of how much money the New York City budget might save,” Stein said, “but it shouldn’t eliminate health care for anybody.”
Mayor Adams said through a spokesperson that “as a blue-collar mayor and someone who himself will collect municipal retiree benefits, Mayor Adams is sympathetic to those who have voiced concerns about how this plan will affect their coverage and will continue to work to assuage these concerns before and after the plan is implemented. The city has had, and will continue to have, the best interests of retirees at heart.”
To live up to that claim, a number of protesters said, the mayor needs to meet with and listen to representatives of city government retirees, as they’ve requested.
“He didn’t take the meeting,” said Uriando, the retired sanitation worker. “That’s a shame. That’s a disgrace.”
Lawyers representing workers’ groups are seeking legal action to not have the new healthcare plan implemented on April 1, as planned. Also, both the comptroller and public advocate have expressed skepticism of the plan as it exists currently.