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New York City Considers Controversial Medicare Plan

City Council leaders announced they will study Mayor Adams’ push to make a Medicare plan the only cost-free health insurance option for retired city workers. But thousands of retirees are against the mayor’s proposal.

New York City Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa
New York City Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa
(Theodore Parisienne/TNS)
(TNS) — New York City's City Council leaders announced late Tuesday, Jan. 3, that they will consider legislation to roll back a local law that stands in the way of Mayor Adams’ long-sought push to make a controversial Medicare plan the only cost-free health insurance option available for the municipal government’s retired workforce.

The announcement, made by Speaker Adrienne Adams (D- Queens) and Council Labor Committee Chair Carmen De La Rosa (D- Manhattan), marked a welcome development for the mayor, who has urged the Council for months to tweak the law, known as Section 12-126 of the Administrative Code.

The decades-old statute requires the city to provide its tens of thousands of retired municipal workers — including everyone from teachers and nurses to cops and firefighters — with premium-free health care for life.

Due to that requirement, Adams has since the beginning of his administration been blocked by courts from implementing a new health insurance system for municipal retirees, under which they would only continue to get premium-free benefits if they accept a so-called Medicare Advantage Plan. Under Adams’ proposed framework — which was first rolled out by ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio — retirees who opt to stick with their traditional Medicare plans would have to cough up a monthly $191 fee.

Adams’ team says the switch could save the city as much as $600 million in taxpayer cash annually due to the fact that Advantage plans are administered by private companies and come with increased federal subsidies.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Speaker Adams and De La Rosa said a bill will be formally introduced that would tweak 12-126 in such a way that Adams’ envisioned Medicare Advantage Plan — complete with the $191 opt-out fee — would be legally feasible.

However, the lawmakers did not offer support for the bill itself — and said the only reason they’re considering it is because Adams made clear last month that he will, sans Council action, try to make Medicare Advantage the only plan available to municipal retirees, a backdoor method his administration argues is legally sound.

“The Council will consider the proposed legislation to preserve healthcare coverage choice for retirees,” the speaker and De La Rosa said. “We are working to examine the major outstanding questions, the details of the Medicare Advantage plan that is moving forward regardless of any potential Council action, and how the city fulfills its health care commitments to all employees and retirees.”

De La Rosa is expected to formally introduce the bill in question Wednesday, according to sources. Her Labor and Civil Services Committee will then hold a public hearing on it this coming Monday.

Jonah Allon, a spokesman for Mayor Adams, lauded the Council announcement.

“We thank the Council for their partnership in working to preserve retiree choice,” he said.

Mayor Adams, a retired NYPD captain, has argued that the savings inherent in an Advantage plan will be a critical hedge against massive city budget deficits expected in the coming years. He has also maintained that an Advantage plan switchover would not impact quality of care for retirees, an argument echoed by the Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella group for the city’s public sector unions.

But thousands of retirees, many of whom are connected to the grassroots NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees, reject the arguments from the mayor and the MLC.

Pointing to studies including an audit from the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the retirees have said Advantage plans would water down their benefits — and put them at risk of being denied “medically necessary” care due to the public-private administration.

A group of retired municipal workers were expected to gather on the City Hall steps Wednesday to protest as De La Rosa formally introduces the bill.

Marianne Pizzitola, president of the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees, said many ex-city workers who want to stay on traditional Medicare cannot afford the $191 monthly fee that would come with it if the mayor gets his way. She pleaded with Speaker Adams to stand up to him.

“If Speaker Adams moves forward, she will be risking the lives of thousands of retirees by forcing them to choose between critical healthcare and bankruptcy,” Pizzitola said late Tuesday. “And that’s not a choice.”

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