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Honor seniors by protecting Medicare

Civil servants are special people often taken for granted. We didn’t fill municipal jobs to get rich, because our wages are lower than our private sector counterparts, but we did expect the pension and health benefits in retirement — a form of “deferred compensation.”

Medicare was passed in 1965 and every tax-paying American has paid a Medicare tax since their first paycheck. Retirees were always told when they become 65 years old or disabled, they will have Medicare. The city always told us we would have a city-paid supplement to pay the last 20% Medicare doesn’t cover.

A Medicare retiree costs employers much less compared to active workers. Retiree pensions are half what we used to earn and we only see a 1-3% increase on the first $18,000 annually. So the largest increase any retiree will ever see is $540 for the year. That is not a real cost of living increase in today’s society.

Municipal workers run every aspect of this city and are a valuable asset whose value should not be diminished. What is also important is the city and its union leaders honor the promises made to its retired unionists and managers. As Gandhi said, “The true measure of any society can be found how it treats its elders and its most vulnerable members.”

Our retirees are our most vulnerable. We served this city, built it, and rebuilt it after 9/11. We didn’t have Zoom on 9/11 so we went back to work in a toxic air soup we were told was safe, it wasn’t. Today, many 9/11 responders and survivors are not getting proper care through the WTC Health Program and rely on our health insurance for it.

Historically, we protected our elders, until recently when current and previous City Hall administrations determined to strip retirees access from our federal public health benefit of Medicare. They also sought to end a choice of plans forcing us into managed care plans that many doctors and hospitals do not accept, and are riddled with prior authorizations procedures putting our lives at risk by allowing a for-profit insurance company to be the gatekeeper in between our doctor’s orders.

May is National Older Americans month when we celebrate the contributions to society of older Americans. We embrace life and choice, including public health, and we think the city needs to invest in labor; which includes its most vulnerable — our retirees.

The fight to save traditional Medicare galvanized a sleeping giant who once battled for worker’s rights, health benefits, better wages, and job safety, and now fights in retirement to protect something we already earned, our right to Medicare. We built our unions and this city. While every worker deserves a raise, it should not be on the backs of a retiree, nor at the expense of their health care.

The dangerous decision privatizing Medicare has a local and national impact as the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General found Medicare Advantage companies overcharge the government draining the Medicare Trust faster. Forcing retirees into managed care with limited networks and prior authorization not in Medicare creates another crisis, and this one determines life or death.

Mayor Adams keeps perpetuating the lie that forcing retirees into managed care saves $600 million. This is not true! Medicare gives retirees equal access to any Medicare provider in America but Aetna’s narrow network has only 88% of doctors we currently see in their plan strangled with prior authorization procedures denying care to make profits that Medicare would have paid for! That is diminished access and care.

A Manhattan appellate court, for the second time in three years, gave a unanimous decision to the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees stating, “The city has made clear, consistent, unambiguous representations — oral and written — over the course of more than 50 years, that New York City municipal worker-retirees would have the option of receiving health care in the form of traditional Medicare with a city-paid supplemental plan. Consequently, the city cannot now mandate the proposed change eliminating that choice.”

This was our case against the city using the doctrine of promissory estoppel and detrimental reliance. The city made a promise to us for almost 60 years in writing and verbally. We relied on it and made life altering-decisions based on that. If they took that from us now in retirement, it would be to our detriment.

This is our ninth win in court across three lawsuits, two unanimous appeals decisions and the mayor still vows to fight retirees and the disabled. As CEO of this city he should respect the elders and the promises made and end his appeals now.

Pizzitola is president of the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees.


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