In the Press:
Lynn retirees air concern over loss of health benefits
The Daily Item
By David Liscio
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
LYNN — In what amounted to an informal Town Meeting, U.S. Rep. John F. Tierney Tuesday listened to Lynn-area senior citizens air their concerns over a potentially bleak health care future.
The gathering at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute was sponsored by ProtectSeniors.Org, a non-profit organization formed to support pending legislation designed to prevent corporations from taking away employee health benefits from retirees.
Specifically, ProtectSeniors.Org was formed by the Association of BellTel Retirees and is focused on House Bill No. 1322, the Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act. Tierney, a Salem Democrat and member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, first introduced Bill No. 1322 to Congress in 2001.
“They want to make it illegal for a corporation to take away the health benefits earned by their retiree family, which they promised in lieu of salary or hourly wages,” said ProtectSeniors.Org spokesman Paul Marin.
According to ProtectSeniors.Org., it is currently legal for corporations to “steal” a retiree’s earned healthcare benefits, a situation with roots that can be traced back years to the General Motors Corp.
GM offered full-paid health care benefits to its managers and their spouses for their entire lives if they would agree to retire by a given date. Thousands of GM managers opted for the plan and eventually retired, only to have GM later reduce or cancel those benefits.
The retirees filed a lawsuit, Sprague vs. GM, and won in a lower court but lost when the case was appealed. The retirees tried to take the legal battle to the Supreme Court, but the justices declined to hear the case, stating that the law had been upheld. As a result, Tierney and groups like ProtectSeniors.Org have concentrated their efforts on changing the law.
“I’m grateful that people like Congressman Tierney are trying to do something about this,” said Johnnie Shelton, 62, of Lynn, a former Bell Atlantic telephone company worker currently employed as a classroom aide in the city’s public schools. “It’s like a cancer. By the time you find out about it, it may be too late.”
According to Shelton, when she retired her health benefits covered nearly 100 percent of medical, dental and vision costs, but all that changed once the phone company became Verizon,
“It was a good retirement package. If I had my eyes checked and needed new glasses, everything was paid for. But the last time I went, they told me I would have to pay half the cost of new glasses and that I should bring $150 up front due to changes in my retirement benefits,” Shelton said. “I didn’t know they could do that. And it keeps changing.”
Shelton has been worrying about the future. “If I have to start paying half the cost of vision, just think about medical, especially for people on a budget who only have so many dollars in their pension checks. Suddenly, you’ve got to pay for your medication. I don’t know how they’re going to make it,” she said.
“What’s going to happen in years to come? Are we going to have to pay the whole thing? Where are we going to get the money? That’s why we have to get this bill passed.”
Tierney described the situation as a national crisis in retiree health care.
“These corporate cutbacks on retiree health care have reached intolerable proportions,” Tierney said. “For too long, working people have been denied health care benefits that were promised upon retirement due to the lack of strong laws in this area. The retirees lived up to their end of the employment bargain during years of hard work; now the companies must hold up their end.”
A recent study by the Employment Benefit Research Institute found that a 65-year old retiree without employment-based insurance may require up to $1.5 million to fund lifetime medical expenses, assuming death at age 100 and medical inflation of 14 percent annually.
“HR 1322 would reverse these recent trends and bring common sense and fairness back to retiree health,” said Tierney, noting the bill now has 79 co-sponsors in Congress.
Leo Murphy of Ipswich, regional vice president of the National Association of Retired Sears Employees, which represents 154,000 retirees nationally, said the bill would “ensure that companies don’t sell out the retirees whose hard work grew the companies in the first place. We all made plans anticipating our retirement years, and those plans have all been torn apart.”
Press Stories And Letters To Editors
Pamela M. Harrison, President, Communication Workers of America, Local 1103 Retired Members Council
Vice President Union Relations
Association of BellTel Retirees Inc.