When Good Retiree Healthcare Goes Away

Published March 22, 2010

During the national debate about healthcare reform many retirees took significant measures to let their voices be heard and the drumbeat continues.  

Jack Cohen of Yorktown Heights, New York published a white paper he sent to every member of Congress titled, “The Caste System at Work in National Health Care Reform,” detailing the absence of protections for retiree healthcare in federal law and in versions of  healthcare reform legislation on Capitol Hill (Read the white paper).

Comparing America’s retirees to the “Untouchables” of India, Mr. Cohen suggests that elected officials have long turned a blind eye to the millions of retired American workers who will, or have already, lost their medical benefits at the hands of their former employers.

“Lost in this whole healthcare debate replete with high-pitched emotions, misinformation, and town hall meetings that regularly make the six o'clock news, are over 18 million retirees whose status is not even mentioned in any proposed healthcare reform legislation,” says Cohen.

His research paper references studies including those by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) finding "the percentage of retirees with coverage through a former employer was at 35.4 percent in 2006, the lowest point between 1994 and 2006 except during 2000.” Cohen says, “Statistics prove a pattern of reduced health benefits available to retirees, despite what may have been included in their benefits packages during their working years.”

Cohen’s campaign underlines that retirees’ healthcare benefits are not gifts from former employers, entitlements or legacy costs.   “These benefits were earned by retirees during their working years and gave employers tax benefits after claiming deductions over many decades.”  

Thomas J. Mackell Jr., former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Virginia, is suggesting that the problem for retirees in America is bleak and has begun a petition drive under the banner of “Americans for Benefits.” (www.americansforbenefits.org)

The group is outraged at what they call “America’s evolutionary trend of shifting the risk of retirement income security and healthcare coverage from the shoulders of institutions to individuals.” 

Mackell says, “Elected officials in Washington, D.C. who facilitated this, in compliance with corporations, should pay a personal price for their abuse of power as well as the abuse of the public trust.”  Mackell is author of the book, “When Good Pensions Go Away.” (Published by John Wiley and Sons.)

The solution his group shares with Cohen is that America’s retirees will accept nothing less than successful legislation for retirement income security and healthcare for all Americans.  
 “The only way that we will get the attention of the members of Congress is to plead to the U.S. government to discontinue the pension plans and healthcare benefits to retired, active and future members of Congress,” The group said. Perhaps they will then understand how vulnerable and anxious the American people feel today.”  
While the President and Congress are readying for the next act on the fight for healthcare reform, Cohen, Mackell and many retirees are concerned about what is next and what reforms may mean to them. 

Opponents of Healthcare Reform Speak Out

As the healthcare reform legislation stalled on Capitol Hill opponents such as Rep. Mike Rogers (R- MI), received much attention for their opposition.  In this clip from late 2009 the Michigan Republican says healthcare reform punishes 85% of Americans that have healthcare to benefit the 15% of Americans that do not.