Mayor’s bid to shift 250,000 public sector retirees to Medicare Advantage plans approved by MLC

Demonstrators protesting against a plan to shift public-sector retirees to Medicare Advantage plans before a Muncipal Labor Committee vote that ultimaley approved the plan. Thursday, March 9, 2023.
Photo By Dean Moses

The Municipal Labor Committee (MLC), made up of representatives from 102 public sector unions, voted on Thursday in approval of Mayor Eric Adams’ administration’s controversial plan to move all city retirees off of traditional Medicare and onto a partially privatized version of the program.

In Thursday morning’s vote, which took place in a closed-door virtual meeting first reported by the New York Daily News, the plan passed with 79% support — with 941 for and 253 against. The plan passed by such a wide margin even though 26 unions were opposed to it because the vote was weighted towards unions with the most members, with each union getting one vote for every 250 members.

The Adams administration has for months argued the Medicare Advantage plans will provide retirees with “high quality” coverage, while saving the city hundreds of millions of dollars each year thanks to federal subsidies, which it says is necessary as the city stares down a likely economic downturn in the coming years. Those who voted against the plan, the News reported, cited concerns from thousands of retirees who worry pre-authorizations for certain procedures and medications, that come with the plan, would slow down or limit their access to care.

The Medicare Advantage PPO plan, which will be run by the health insurance company Aetna, will be the only premium-free insurance available for approximately 250,000 municipal retirees and any dependents on their insurance. The retirees will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Advantage on Sept. 1, according to a document shared with amNewYork Metro, unless they opt out before that date.

“We look forward to ensuring a robust quality plan for our retirees and their families,” said MLC Chair Harry Nespoli in a statement. “We will be vigilant in making sure that our retirees’ welfare remains front and center in the administration of the plan.”

A demonstrator protesting Mayor Eric Adams’s plan to shift city retirees to Medicare Advantage plans holds up a sign with the mayor’s likeness on it.Photo By Dean Moses

Adams, in a statement to amNewYork, applauded MLC’s approval of the plan, saying it would uphold the current standard of coverage retirees receive under traditional Medicare, while also lowering the tab for city taxpayers.

“The city and the Municipal Labor Committee have worked diligently to negotiate a contract with Aetna that would continue our longstanding commitment to provide high-quality, premium-free coverage to retirees, while utilizing federal subsidies for Medicare Advantage plans to contain the skyrocketing health care costs that are straining our limited resources and respect taxpayer dollars,” Adams said.

The mayor took things a step further, saying the Medicare Advantage plan approved by MLC would lower their deductibles and cap out-of-pocket costs as well as add new transportation, fitness and wellness incentives. He said they also “heard the concerns” of retirees, working to reduce the number of procedures that need prior authorization under the plan.

“In the coming days, we will communicate with all city retirees to provide details and next steps for the plan, and Aetna will be providing additional resources to answer any questions about the plan,” Adams said. “This Medicare Advantage Plan is in the best interests of retirees and taxpayers.”

A group of protesters demonstrated against approval of the plan outside union offices and City Hall before the vote Thursday morning. According to a Tweet from Politico New York reporter Madina Touré, Julie Schwartzberg — a member of the Cross-union Retirees Organizing Committee — said her group intends to fight the MLC’s vote.

“The MLC just voted to take away our Medicare and I am sorry to report that most of us knew it was going to happen and what are we going to do now,” Schwartzberg said. “We’re gonna fight.”