BEEKMANTOWN — Despite having multiple sclerosis, Dr. David Walter is able to walk reasonably normally with the help of Ampyra, one of 13 drugs prescribed to him.
But if he had to buy all his prescriptions under Plan B health insurance, the retired Beekmantown Central School superintendent estimates his annual co-pay would be about $8,000.
“That’s an awful lot of money,” Walter told the Beekmantown School Board at Tuesday’s meeting. “I’m not wealthy by any stretch of anybody’s imagination, although I probably am one of the highest paid people that you’ve had here retire.”
And if the board were to switch all of the school’s retired teachers and support staff from Plan A to Plan B, he noted, someone who retired 35 years ago with a final salary of $17,000 surely wouldn’t be able to afford such costs.
TIED TO NEGOTIATIONS
Walter was one of several at the well-attended session who spoke out against moving to the alternative plan, which carries lower premiums but higher deductibles and co-insurance costs and has no out-of-pocket maximum on prescription drugs.
Sydney Garrant described to the board how in her 34 years as a teacher, counselor and administrator, she and others gave up monetary settlements and other benefits to ensure they would have Plan A in retirement.
“It is wrong not to keep your word,” she said.
Some speakers pointed out that active teachers and support staff, who recently negotiated a switch to Plan B, did so under the impression that retirees would remain on Plan A.
“There is no way the unions ever would have agreed to this if you had told them you were going after the retirees,” former School Board member Richard Lavigne told the board.
He noted that several on the negotiating team stated publicly at the district’s December health-insurance forum that they were told retiree health insurance would not be switched.
“If you do vote (in favor of) it, I’ll tell you right now, as far as I’m concerned, you have no ethics,” Lavigne said.
Others, however, pointed out that the cost of post-employment benefits is contributing to a financial crisis that threatens the district’s future.
“We need to acknowledge that and begin fixing our financial problems or we all lose ... and our kids will be the biggest casualties,” district resident Holly Sims told the board.
The board, she continued, has indicated that a health-reimbursement agreement could be included for retirees, as it was for active employees who switched plans, keeping deductibles and co-insurance costs the same as they are under Plan A.
Putting a cap on Plan B prescription costs, she noted, is also a possibility.
“I would support a change of plans in retiree health insurance to Plan B if we could look at some of the situations and make sure that there would not be any enormously adverse effects for anyone,” said district resident Marilyn Dwyer, a parent and former BCS Board member.
She noted she feels badly that retirees are put in this situation, “but I also feel badly that we have children that are losing programs, and we have young teachers that have lost jobs.”
‘MATTER OF TRUST’
During the board’s own public discussion, board member Pauline Stone said she felt the long-term effects of switching retiree health insurance would be more devastating than any potential savings.
“The retirees feel betrayed that the district would even consider putting them on Plan (B) after all they gave up ... this is a matter of trust at this point,” she said.
If the district were to get sued, attorney’s fees would surely eat up any savings, she suggested.
Given that union representatives said they wouldn’t have switched plans had they known retirees might also have to switch, she added, future negotiations could be affected.
“If we move to plan B, are contracts not going to be settled?” Stone asked.
The board needs to keep in mind that Plan A could be cut in the future due to its rising costs, board member April Bingel noted.
Both Stone and Bingel’s concerns, Superintendent Daniel Mannix told the board, are reasons “we have to have this discussion and make the best decision we can possibly make taking everything into full consideration.”
But board member Andrew Brockway saw no reason to continue discussing the topic.
“I believe that there’s nothing that’s going to come out that’s going to shift the balance one way or another,” he said. “For me, it isn’t worth saving less than 1 percent of the budget by taking away benefits that were earned, not given, to retirees through a valid collective bargaining agreement.”
“I don’t feel that we’re ready to close the door on (discussion) yet,” Board President Debbie Passno countered.
While a reimbursement agreement could solve the problem of higher deductibles and co-insurance costs for retirees, she continued, prescription costs are a concern, and it’s important to see what could be done about that.
‘TIME A FACTOR’
Member Cathy Buckley stated she would like retirees to be able to chose among staying on Plan A, switching to Plan B with a reimbursement agreement and remaining on Plan A with a buy-out option.
Board member Eric Anderson said rough data he collected indicates a prescription-cost cap of $300 to $500 along with Plan B would still realize significant savings in the long run.
Passno encouraged retirees to discuss the issue among themselves and bring any concerns not yet raised to the board.
Mannix added that he welcomes proposed solutions.
“I think time is of the essence, though,” he said.
Email Ashleigh Livingston:firstname.lastname@example.org