Township retirees voice concern over proposed changes to health care

DAVISON TWP. — The audience at the Aug. 9 township board meeting looked like a reunion of former township employees and elected officials, all of whom were there to find out what kind of changes the new administration is proposing to their insurance benefits.

Jack Schmitz, director of benefits and TPA sales for the Burnham & Flower Insurance Group, was on hand to give a presentation about what his company is offering the township to switch insurance carriers.

For the township, Schmitz said Burnham & Flower’s proposal would save taxpayers $182,000 a year, while maintaining the current coverage with some enhancements to benefits. There is an $84,000 saving with the retirees alone, as well as a savings of $80,000 in dental and $98,000 in what Schmitz calls “noncontroversial items.”

Schmitz said he is not only trying to get the township the same coverage for a better price, but he’s also trying to enhance benefits wherever possible.

“Somebody asked me the last time why there’s such a big difference,” he said. “My only conclusion is these benefits haven’t been shopped, recently. Or, they have been shopped and no action was taken.”

The biggest concern shared by the retirees seemed to focus on switching to Humana Medicare Advantage from the longtime Blue Traditional Medicare Supplemental.

Many retirees shared fears that their providers would not accept Humana, forcing them to find new doctors.

A Humana representative assured the audience they would have 100 percent coverage from Humana, whether it is in or out of network. Sometimes, he said doctors or hospitals will say they don’t accept Humana, but it’s a matter of talking to their billing department and asking if they will bill Humana because the company will still take claims that are out of network.

The plan is a PPO, so there is in- and out-of-network, but the company has made this plan a “passive design” so the same benefits are in network as they are out of network, allowing those covered under the plan to still receive 100 percent benefit.

He said Humana will educate every member on asking the right questions when they talk to a health care provider and are told they do not accept Humana insurance.

Schmitz also talked about dental and vision being similar plans to what everyone at the township currently has, life insurance with an additional 20 percent for line of duty incidents, and a plan to give employees and their dependents a free mental wellness program with three free visits each.

Randy Stewart, former Zoning and Building Administrator for the township, said the benefits packages at the township currently line-up, so retirees receive the same benefits as those who are employed receive. He asked if that would change.

Schmitz said the retirees would be on a separate plan but assured them they would keep costs down and coverage up.

Former Supervisor Karen Miller also spoke from the audience and said she hopes the board realizes it has bargaining union contracts with police and office personnel it must contend with before making any changes to the benefit packages.

“You’ll have to get through those unions and make those unions believe that this benefit is worthy of what the existing employees are getting and that has to be done long before these changes,” she said.

Township Supervisor Jim Slezak said it isn’t the administration’s plan to make any changes to coverage, but instead to approach benefits with fiscal responsibility.

He also discussed his own health issues and asked the audience if they thought he wanted to get rid of the health benefits he just started receiving after being elected last November.

“Do you think I want to give this up? This is a Ferrari plan,” he said. “I’ve had to pay for my benefits my whole life, by myself. Do you think I want to get rid of that?”

Former Supervisor Tim Elkins, who lost the election to Slezak last fall, said Blue Cross is the “gold standard” in Medicare plans and disputed the Humana plan could be called the same type of coverage.

He went on to criticize the administration for upsetting the retirees and employees.

“I think the board should have looked into the ordinance and union contracts and had those discussions before opening this can of worms,” said Elkins. “You’re putting the cart in front of the horse, instead you bring a bunch of people here and p*** them off and scare them, which I think is uncalled for. You should have done your research beforehand to see if you could move forward…that would have made a lot more sense.”

Resident Wanda Mitchell said she supported the board changing insurances if it would save taxpayers money.

She said she was surprised at how many retirees were complaining about what others would consider to be “golden” insurance when most people have to pay for their benefits out of pocket and still can’t afford similar plans.

“This board brings something to save the people of this township money,” she said. “So, the fact you people have this wonderful insurance, golden insurance, that right there is worth a lot of money and to listen to you people nit-pick and not even just listen to what they’re saying. And for you to be so verbally abusive and disrespectful, you need to apologize. Because this township is run for the masses, not just for you.”

Former Police Chief Rick Freeman, who retired at the end of June, offered a response to Mitchell in defense of the retirees who were upset by the proposed changes in benefits.

“I’m sorry you are offended that we’re upset about benefits that we spent decades earning, because we did earn them,” he said. “You not having medical benefits in your employment…that’s a choice of yours. This is a room full of township employees who sacrificed, negotiated in good faith and at certain times over usually three decades or more, gave up certain things over those years to receive these benefits and you are darn right we’re going to defend them.”

Freeman also said he hopes in the future to see better communication from the board, chalking up the angry retirees to poor communication about the proposed plan prior to the meeting.

He said the assumption many made was there would be a quick “sales pitch”, and everyone would be expected to go along with the plan as the board went ahead and voted on it.

“Employee benefit meetings should precede board meetings,” said Freeman, who added he would be studying the proposal before the next meeting.

Slezak said Schmitz would return Aug. 24 at 10 a.m. to discuss the plan with the employees with the entire board not present. He hoped to get any questions or concerns addressed at that meeting.

“We’re not moving forward with anything until we get all the questions answered,” said Slezak. “I see the savings, I’m not sure if its comparable or not. We want to hear your questions.”