NYC union bosses vote for plan to mandate Medicare Advantage for retired city workers
26 unions voted against the move to remove traditional Medicare as an option
By Cayla Bamberger, Chris Sommerfeldt
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — New York City’s public sector union bosses signed off Thursday on a highly controversial plan to make a cost-cutting, partially privatized version of Medicare the only health insurance option available for the municipal government’s retired workforce.
The stamp of approval from the Municipal Labor Committee, which is made up of reps for all local public sector unions, clears the way for Mayor Adams’ administration to eliminate traditional Medicare as an option for the city’s roughly 250,000 retired workers.
In its place, the administration will offer a Medicare Advantage Plan managed by private health insurance giant Aetna as the only premium-free coverage available for municipal retirees. The administration has for months maintained the Advantage plan will provide retirees with adequate coverage while saving the city hundreds of millions of dollars per year thanks to increased federal subsidies — and Municipal Labor Committee leaders have sided with that argument.
However, support for the Advantage switch was not unanimous in the committee during Thursday morning’s vote, which took place in a private virtual meeting accessed by the Daily News.
In the meet, 26 unions voted against the measure, citing concerns from thousands of retirees who fear their access to care would be diminished under an Advantage plan, in part because of convoluted pre-authorization protocols required by Aetna for certain medical procedures and medicines.
The plan still passed, though, because the vote is weighted.
Harry Greenberg, a lawyer for the Municipal Labor Committee, explained in the meeting that each union gets one vote per every 250 members. The final tally thereby ended up being 941 in favor and 253 opposed to the Advantage shift, Greenberg said.
A significant chunk of the yes votes came from the United Federation of Teachers, one of the city’s largest unions which has nearly 200,000 members.
“It’s done,” Municipal Labor Committee President Harry Nespoli, who’s also the head of the city sanitation workers’ union, said after the vote got tallied.
A spokesman for Adams did not immediately return a request for comment.
Among the nay-voters were Oren Barzilay, president of the FDNY union representing uniformed EMTs, paramedics and fire inspectors.
Speaking to The News before the vote, Barzilay said retired members of his union have been informed by Aetna that its Advantage plan doesn’t cover certain medicines to the same degree traditional Medicare does.
He voiced dismay at the way in which the vote was conducted and said that the current system gives outsize sway to the UFT and DC37, the city’s largest union made up of a number of locals, most of which voted in favor of the Advantage plan Thursday.
“It’s pretty much whatever those two unions say that happens,” Barzilay said. “The voting process should change because nothing can ever be accomplished without the support of those two.”