PSC RETIREES CHAPTER ON THE MOVE FOR FULL REIMBURSEMENT FOR MEDICAL PART B

By Michael Lumelski

CLARION

MAY 2001

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The New York City Council has unanimously passed a bill to resume full reimbursement of Medicare Part B premiums to retired city employees.  The bill, Intro. 580-A, comes after 13 years of partial payment by the city, which has meant a loss of as much as $1,288 per retiree.

The victory follows a concerted campaign in support of the bill by the PSC’s Retirees Chapter, along with DC 37, the UFT, and the Council of Municipal Retiree Organizations of New York City (COMRO).  With the help of PSC Executive Director Deborah Bell, the Retirees Chapter planned a postcard campaign targeting the City Council.  Two thousand two hundred retirees were given postcards—New York City residents were asked to send them to their local council members, others to Council Speaker Peter Vallone. 

On April 10, Retirees Chapter Chair Irwin Yellowitz testified at a Council hearing on the bill.  “In the City University, we have retirees of many years’ standing whose pensions are fixed and modest,” Yellowitz said.  “Restoration of full reimbursement would be an important aid to each one of these persons.  Government, no less than any citizen, should honor its commitments.”

Medicare Part A covers hospitalization costs for those over 65; Part B is an optional insurance policy that covers doctor’s bills but requires payment of an individual premium.  In 1968, the city pledged to reimburse retirees for the cost of this premium, and continued to do so until 1988.  In that year, Mayor Ed Koch announced that the city was no longer financially equipped to pay the full rate.  By 1992 the percentage of the premium covered by the city had dropped to 91%, and by 2000, despite the city’s economic recovery, it had decreased to 70%.  Intro. 580-A will increase the percentage to 85% ($38.70 per month) in 2001, and then restore it to 100% in every year thereafter.

The Council passed the bill without dissent on April 25. Mayor Giuliani sent a message against the bill and will probably veto it, according to Yellowitz.  “All the mayors since Koch have been opposed to it—they see it as just another expense,” Yellowitz said.  “The key will be if the Council can override the veto, and the prospects for that are good.”  Giuliani has until May 25 to make his decision. 

To Yellowitz, the success of the 13-year struggle shows that it pays to be persistent.  “This year, with the election and the city’s surplus, the political situation worked out in our favor,” he said.  “So even if you don’t achieve a victory immediately, if you’re persistent you’ll get it.”