The City of Memphis plans to launch an aggressive education campaign to apprise retirees of their options in the wake of a scramble to put in a place a multi-year, guaranteed healthcare assurance plan with good coverage options for all City retirees.
The office of Mayor A C Wharton Jr. announced earlier this week that the City “and its partners” were putting such a healthcare assurance plan in place. The plan was described as being in addition to continued medical insurance coverage for surviving spouses and dependents of employees who died in the line of duty and certain Medicare ineligible retirees.
The educational campaign, which was projected to kick off “in the coming weeks,” would include the convening of community meetings that provide retirees and their families with opportunities to ask questions and to be provided with one-on-one counseling regarding recent changes to their benefits. Those moves would be in addition to information they would receive in the mail, individual appointments, phone calls, social media and a website serving as an information repository.
As for the healthcare assurance plan, an application process would help determine the retiree’s level of need. In partnership with the City, local hospitals and insurers have pledged to work with each retiree to ensure they are covered, and provided assistance with premium payments and out-of-pocket expenses such as deductibles and co-pays, and medication costs, based on their individual need.
Faced with a $551 million pension fund deficit and $1.3 billon Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) debt, the Wharton administration recommended and the City Council approved phasing out the practice of paying 70 percent of retiree’s healthcare insurance, reportedly saving the City $23 million to be used to pay its pension obligation.
“The choice we’ve had to make has caused a lot of stress and anxiety for our retirees, and it was a difficult choice for Council and the administration to make,” said Wharton in a released statement.
“I want to thank the city’s provider of choice, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, and our plan administrator, Cigna, for stepping up and helping us provide affordable solutions for City retirees who may need assistance in light of these changes. Also, I appreciate other providers and insurers, including Baptist Hospital, BlueCross BlueShield and our community partners, for pledging their support of our sincere efforts to ensure every retiree is covered and relieved of any financial hardship.”
There are 13 (pre-65) surviving spouses and children of employees who died in the line of duty who will remain on the City’s plan. Also, 1,100 post-65 retirees without Medicare A&B will remain on the City’s plan.
Councilman Edmund Ford Jr. welcomed news of Methodist Healthcare’s commitment.
“This is a stellar example of teamwork,” said Ford. “The initiative being shown by Methodist Healthcare is in my opinion a perfect complement to the safety net fund Council will consider today.”
In executive session, Ford proposed the creation of a $2 million safety net fund that would give further assurance that all City retirees would have access to good coverage. With details still being worked out by the Wharton Administration and consideration by the full council required, the plan reportedly is set for presentation on July 15th, the date of the Council’s next session.
The coverage options include BlueCross BlueShield and Cigna plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace, and the Church Health Center’s Memphis Plan.
“Fortunately, there are a number of good coverage options available and as the City’s healthcare partner, Methodist is committed to working with Mayor Wharton, and the City Council to help identify and provide various forms of assistance to ensure every retiree gets the needed care and coverage,” said Gary Shorb, CEO of Methodist Le Bonheur.