Controversial proposed changes to the city of Macon’s health care plan for employees and retirees could be enacted soon with City Council set to hear the issue Tuesday night.
After a long, drawn-out debate in front of about 40 active and retired workers Monday, three separate council committees approved the changes and voted to put the issue on the regular council agenda. That decision drew strong disapproval from many retirees in attendance. Many of the retirees stormed out of the council’s committee room before all the day’s meetings had ended.
For months, City Council members have debated changes proposed by the Reichert administration that are designed to eliminate a $200,000 monthly deficit the city pays under the current plan. Some of the changes include higher premiums for those paying into the plan as well as eligibility changes.
Council members’ confusion was apparent over some of the plan’s final proposed amendments. It took committee members several minutes to adjust language that specified that spouses and retirees who had access to other health care plans with other jobs would no longer be eligible for the city’s plan.
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There was even more confusion when Councilwoman Elaine Lucas proposed an amendment that would fold in all aspects of President Barack Obama’s new national health care plan into the city’s plan. It took several minutes to determine that the city would be grandfathered in under the national law and would have up to a year to make any necessary changes to comply with that law.
Meanwhile, a critical proposed amendment — one that would change the current wording of the plan that seemingly limits retirees over 65 to take Medicare Advantage instead of all Medicare plans — was proposed Monday, but it was forgotten about until after both the Employee Development and Compensation Committee and the Appropriations Committee had already approved the amended plan.
It’s an important amendment, because many of the retirees have expressed concerns during the past few months that they would only have the option of taking Medicare Advantage, one of several current Medicare options. Monday, Macon Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Thomas said employees would have access to many different Medicare options, known as Medigap.
Councilwoman Lauren Benedict told other members that she plans to introduce the Medicare amendment Tuesday.
Lucas has been among the most vocal opponents of the proposed health care changes and told Thomas during one of Monday’s meeting that she still opposes them after Thomas said many of the changes the city is proposing are in line with other government entities and private industry.
“That may be the industry standard, but that doesn’t make it right,” she said. “These and other things will impact a number of employees in a negative way.”
Before the Ordinances & Resolutions Committee met, several retirees expressed displeasure with the proposed changes. Former Bibb County Commission Chairman Charlie Bishop, a retired Macon police officer, accused the city and county governments of collaborating as a means of bringing about consolidation.
He said once departments from both governments merged, county employees would still get their retirement benefits while city employees would be moved into Medicare coverage.
“This has been a farce,” Bishop told council members. “Y’all threw these city employees under the bus.”
Retired Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Jimmy Hartley said Monday he’s glad that Medigap coverage would be available to retirees, but he said many of them think the council is rushing through the changes and not considering their concerns.
“They asked us to solicit our questions in writing, but to this day we have yet to get an answer to those questions,” Hartley said. “We have a plethora of questions, the answers of which will affect people’s lives in profound ways. ... They’re treating us like moochers.”
But Councilman Charles Jones said the changes, while painful, are ultimately necessary because the city has commitments to city employees and taxpayers.
“The difference is, we’re doing something necessary when you wish you can do nothing at all,” Jones said. “We’re voting for something that’s the best thing we can find.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.