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New York must protect options for retiree health care

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Henry Garrido

Henry Garrido

Executive Director of District Council 37
For New York Daily News

The City Council must exercise leadership and amend Administrative Code 12-126 this month. The consequences of not having the courage to do the right thing will be devastating: active workers and retirees will either lose their choice in health care plans or be forced to pay annual premiums for themselves and their families. Neither option is acceptable. It’s time to amend the code.

District Council 37 is the largest municipal union in New York City. More than 80% of our members live within the five boroughs: we are your neighbors, your nurse practitioners, librarians, gardeners, lunch providers and construction workers. We are New Yorkers who are proud to serve this great city, just as we did tirelessly during the pandemic to keep hospitals, emergency services and schools running. We represent the lowest-paid city employees, primarily women and people of color. These are the very workers a well-funded opposition group claims to be protecting, when in fact they will be harmed the greatest by the relentless campaign to derail this critical update to Administrative Code 12-126.

The state Constitution guarantees a pension for city workers, but unfortunately does not guarantee health insurance. It’s up to the collective bargaining process to secure this benefit, which the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) has done successfully for the last 40 years.

We do not take the issue of health care lightly—in fact, we’ve sounded the alarm on the instability of the fund that pays for city employee and retiree health care for many years. To identify solutions and long-term savings, the city and MLC established a Tripartite Healthcare Committee in 2014. Though our recommendations have realized more than $3.4 billion in savings to date, the cost of health care has more than doubled due to certain hospital systems charging 300% above Medicare rates for the same services, increases in prescription drug pricing and astronomical bills associated with COVID-19 testing and treatment.

Amending Administrative Code 12-126 is about protecting choice. The update to the code only became necessary after the retiree group’s lawsuit against the Medicare Advantage plan resulted in the decision rendered by Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Lyle Frank that the city is not obligated to give retirees “an option of plans,” and in fact could satisfy its obligation under the Administrative Code by removing this choice in plans. At an Oct. 27 appellate hearing, justices asked the city’s attorney, “Why not just eliminate all options and have only one plan?”

The 2014 and 2018 Health Savings Agreements both granted a third-party arbitrator the authority to impose changes to city employee and retiree health care. On Dec. 15, the arbitrator gave the Council 45 days to update the language in Administrative Code 12-126 to allow for additional health care options, or stated he would remove all but one health care plan for retirees. Though the retiree group is doing a great job of scaring people from changing the code, not doing so will eliminate the very thing they’re fighting for: the ability to keep their health care plan.

Time and money has officially run out. Today, the fund that pays for city employee and retiree health care has been depleted, and the bills continue to mount by $50 million per month. Amending the Administrative Code will allow us to close the gap and do what the courts effectively took away — provide options for those who want one.

The Council promised their support for workers and working families on the campaign trail. Now it’s time to review the facts, stand with our 150,000 active members, 89,000 retirees and their dependents, and take action to amend Administrative Code 12-126.


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