Bill to switch health care for retirees hits city council

Not surprisingly, measure does not get warm welcome from some council members


Councilwoman Carmen De La Rosa, whose district covers Marble Hill and upper Manhattan, finally introduced a bill on Jan. 4 to clear the way for Mayor Eric Adams’ push to move thousands of the city’s retirees to a cost-savings privatized health care plan.

If it becomes law, the bill would essentially allow the city to make a controversial Medicare Advantage plan the only ‘“free” supplemental health care coverage it offers to retired municipal employees.

Councilman Eric Dinowitz, whose district covers much of the northwest Bronx and neighbors De La Rosa’s, quickly came out against the switch. “I am vehemently opposed to moving retirees to Medicare Advantage. The promise that was made to me was the same promise made to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, and that promise should be kept,” Dinowitz said in a letter published in this week’s Riverdale Press.

Dinowitz has long been a public servant, starting in 2007 when he became a NYC public school special education teacher in the Bronx.

“When I took the job, I was told that while my friends in the private sector may earn more money now, I would have financial security in retirement in the form of a pension, and health care in the form of a Medicare supplement,” he wrote. “The city is now trying to break that promise by switching municipal retirees to a Medicare Advantage plan.”

At the meeting the bill was introduced, a few members of the council instantly rejected the proposed legislation. “Much like the hundreds of constituents I have heard from, I am shocked by this administration’s callous attempt to strip existing health care coverage from thousands of our city’s retirees,” said Councilwoman Shahana Hanif. In fact the bill did not even get a full-throated endorsement from the lawmaker who introduced it.

“Given the impact that this issue has had on organized labor and municipal retired workers, it is appropriate that the bill, at the request of the mayor, be introduced through me as chair of the Civil Service and Labor committee,” De La Rosa said.

“At this point, the council has agreed to consider this legislative solution, and its introduction lays the table for all involved parties to provide support, concern, and/or alternative solutions.”

Even before the bill had been formally introduced to the council, the mayor’s proposal to restructure retirees’ health care was met with serious opposition. There were a series of protests outside of city hall where retirees chanted that if they did not get their way, then the council members would lose their vote in the future.

Much of the pushback has been led by the New York City Organization of Public Service Retirees.

That group argues the new supplemental coverage would offer inferior health care benefits, including a smaller network of health care providers and prior authorization requirements for a slew of life-saving medical procedures.

“I unequivocally condemn this heinous attempt to strip health care benefits from New York’s retirees,” said Marianne Pizzitola, who is the president of  the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees, after Councilwoman De La Rosa introduced the bill. “This proposal will come at the expense of the men and women who kept New York City running for decades.

“Mayor Adams is attempting to save money on the backs of hundreds of thousands of seniors and disabled individuals who worked their entire lives to support themselves, their families, and New York City. These retirees should not be forced to sacrifice their lives, their health care, so that the city can save money.”

Right now, the city must pay for the entire cost of health care benefits for city employees and retirees up to a certain cap. The draft version of the bill seeks to give the city and the Municipal Labor Committee, which negotiates on behalf of many city worker unions, the power to lower that benchmark for retirees.

The new legislation could then effectively release the city of its duty to pay for retirees’ current benefits. If they want to keep them, the $191 a month — which is the current cost for the most popular supplemental plan — will have to come out of retirees’ pockets.

On Monday, the council’s committee on civil service and labor discussed the current bill.

Councilman Dinowitz, who sits on the committee, asked representatives of the mayor’s administration, “Why the hell should someone work for the city … if the things we were told we were going to get in retirement and now are being changed and essentially taken away from us?”