Dems and Repugs. Pensions and health care.

Illinois Supreme Court justice Bob Thomas challenges state’s lawyer on pension theft.

Even if the U.S. Senate passes anything close to looking like the Trumpcare health care bill that the Republicans passed in the U.S. House it will be a life-threatening disaster for millions of American families.

I can’t even make pre-existing condition visual jokes on Facebook and my blog about it. Others have tried. The crisis just can’t be made funny or ironic.

I was reading Paul Krugman’s analysis this morning in the NY Times.

This isn’t one of those cases where people try to do what they said they would, but fall short in the execution. This is an act of deliberate betrayal: Everything about Trumpcare is specifically designed to do exactly the opposite of what Trump, Paul Ryan and other Republicans said it would.

Later Krugman writes:

There is a powerful faction within the G.O.P. for whom cutting taxes on the rich is more or less the only thing that matters.

And on a more subjective note, don’t you get the impression that Donald Trump gets some positive pleasure out of taking people who make the mistake of trusting him for a ride?

As for why they think they can get away with it: Well, isn’t recent history on their side? The general shape of what the G.O.P. would do to health care, for the white working class in particular, has long been obvious, yet many people who were sure to lose, bigly, voted Trump anyway.

Why shouldn’t Republicans believe they can convince those same voters that the terrible things that will happen if Trumpcare becomes law are somehow liberals’ fault?

And for that matter, how confident are you that mainstream media will resist the temptation of both-sides-ism, the urge to produce “balanced” reporting that blurs the awful reality of what Trumpcare will do if enacted?

In any case, let’s be clear: What just happened on health care shouldn’t be treated as just another case of cynical political deal making. This was a Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength moment. And it may be the shape of things to come.

What struck me about what Krugman says about Trumpcare is that exactly could be written about Illinois pension reform if you replace G.O.P. with Democrats and replace health care with pensions.

We wrote basically this column over and over again four years ago when Illinois Democrats passed pension theft.

Both Trumpcare and pension reform are attacks on the lives of working and poor people and it is a bi-partisan thing by whatever the party is in power – Repugs now in D.C. and Dems when Pat Quinn rented the Governor’s mansion.

In writing the decision that ruled the Democrat’s pension theft unconstitutional, the justices of the Illinois Supreme Court wrote:

The General Assembly may not legislate on a subject withdrawn from its authority by the constitution and it cannot rely on police powers to overcome this limitation.

As we have already explained, there simply is no police power to disregard the express provisions of the constitution.

It could not be otherwise, for if police powers could be invoked to nullify express constitutional rights and protections whenever the legislature (or other branches of government) felt that economic or other exigencies warranted, it is not merely pension benefits of public employees that would be in jeopardy. No rights or property would be safe from the State. Today it is nullification of the right to retirement benefits. Tomorrow it could be renunciation of the duty to repay State obligations.

Eventually, investment capital could be seized. Under the State’s reasoning, the only limit on the police power would be the scope of the emergency. The legislature could do whatever it felt it needed to do under the circumstances. And more than that, through its funding decisions, it could create the very emergency conditions used to justify its suspension of the rights conferred and protected by the constitution. If financial markets were rational, this prospect would not buoy our economy, it would ruin it.

In the days before the Illinois legislature voted to steal our pensions I and my fellow teachers and retirees met with many, mostly Democratic state representatives, to present our case against pension theft.

In many cases they had not read the bill. We met with a number who had not seen the bill nearly 12 hours before voting on it. Many had no idea about the consequences, intended and unintended.

Many knew it would not pass constitutional muster.

It was ruled unconstitutional almost exactly two years ago.

The threat of pension theft was and remains a terrible fear for many active and especially retired public employees.

The fear of poverty in their old age has taken a physical toll on the elderly.

When we argued that pension theft and health care are moral – not just a political or a legal obligation – the current leadership of the two Parties cannot claim moral superiority.

My annual.

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This is Anne and me in Wakarusa, Indiana. 2009.

April is the month I get my yearly physical.

First of all, the results are pretty good for a guy who turns 70 next year. I don’t turn 69 until June, but I like saying, “I turn 70 next year.”

I go to the gym regularly. I try to watch any up-tick in my weight. I have to control my blood pressure with some meds. But all-in-all, the doctor and I were satisfied with the results.

The health insurance system works pretty well for me.

I am insured through a combination of Medicare and the retired teacher’s state health care system. It is not free. I pay a premium for insurance which is subsidized by payments from the state. I helped support the subsidy to retirees by payments I made when I was an active teacher.

Like my pension, that was the deal made when I started teaching 35 years ago.

Now Governor Rauner is threatening to end the state subsidy.

From the Illinois Retired Teachers Association:

Teachers’ Retirement Insurance Program (TRIP) is composed of two insurance programs: Standard TRIP and TRAIL.  Standard TRIP is the health insurance for those retirees under 65 years old and those retirees who are not Medicare eligible.

The February breakdown from Central Management Systems (CMS) of funding sources for TRIP are as follows:

Active Teachers 24.5%

Retirees 31.6%

School Districts 18.4%

State of Illinois 22.9%

Medicare 0.4%

Other 2.2%

IF the governor’s budget were to be adopted with the TRIP line zeroed out, then retiree-participants would have to bear the increased cost or drop out of TRIP and go to the public marketplace for insurance coverage.

Breaking a promise made to me when I began teaching would cause my slightly elevated current blood pressure to rise even more.

To the trolls who will surely want write and tell me how unfair it is that Illinois’s teachers have it so good: Don’t bother.

Nobody is more aware than I am that it could be worse. And it is worse for many, even with the Affordable Care Act that the Repugs are again trying to do away with.

Take the case of the retired mine workers who will lose their health coverage later this month if Congress doesn’t act.

Donald J. Trump made coal miners a central metaphor of his presidential campaign, promising to “put our miners back to work” and look after their interests in a way that the Obama administration did not.

Now, three months into his presidency, comes a test of that promise.

Unless Congress intervenes by late April, government-funded health benefits will abruptly lapse for more than 20,000 retired miners, concentrated in Trump states that include Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Many of the miners have serious health problems arising from their years in the mines.

In mining areas like Uniontown, Pa., and surrounding Fayette and Greene Counties, which Mr. Trump carried 2 to 1, it is an upsetting and potentially costly prospect. “It’s just a terrible, terrible feeling,” said one of the retirees, David VanSickle, who spent four decades at work in the mines. “I think about that 25 times a day.”

The president has offered no public comment on the issue, even as he has rolled back regulations on mine operators, an omission that has not escaped the notice of Mr. VanSickle and other retired miners.

“To me, that was kind of a promise he did make to us,” Mr. VanSickle said about Mr. Trump, whom he supported last fall. “He promised to help miners, not just mining companies.”

Yes. They voted for Trump. But I take no satisfaction in saying that they were foolish to believe him.

In a society that thinks of itself as democratic and humane, where affordable healthcare and quality public education should be a right, it is crazy that we are still fighting for both.

 

Download Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers #12.

Keeping retirement weird. Schadenfreude.

God works in mysterious ways, I hear.

In spite of right-wing evangelist Pat Robertson’s declaring that he thought God was Speaker of the House, it turned out it was Paul Ryan.

I posted the word Schadenfruede on Facebook last week as it became clear the the Trumpists were on the verge of crashing and burning over repeal and replace.

It is a German word meaning deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others.

Reading that, some friends thought I was referring to the way Republicans in Congress and holding office elsewhere seem to get pleasure from the pain and suffering of working class and poor folks.

I was referring to the pleasure I was feeling watching TrumpRyan fumble, flail and fail.

There is another German word I know and like. Gemütlichkeit means having good cheer.

I’m feeling that at the moment too.

Health care in America is another one of those choice things.

The rich and wealthy get to choose. And so do we. They get the right to choose the kind of health care they can afford. So do we.

As a retired public school teacher my health care costs are manageable but in spite of what some think, my retiree insurance is hardly free.

I pay out of pocket for Medicare. I pay a monthly premium for the state teachers health insurance. I would not be affected by ACA one way or the other. But there is always the threat that I can lose what I have if the legislature acts.

There has been some talk from the Illinois legislature to take away the partial subsidy provided by the state to our health care costs.

As part of our teacher pension benefit, I believe the subsidy is protected by the pension protection clause of the state constitution. If the governor and the legislature try to take the subsidy away, I suppose the courts will have to remind them of Kanerva v. Weems.

As with the threats prior to the decision of the Illinois courts that current retiree pensions are protected, the threat to health care subsidies is particularly stressful on our older retirees.

Do the legislature and the Governor feel  a certain amount of schadenfreude over this? They must.

I am with those who continue to wonder why the United States is among the very few wealthy, industrialized countries without a national health care system that is affordable, not tied to employment or run by the giant insurance companies.

Saving ACA is a win.

It is surely a loss for the Trumpists.

But a national single payer system of health care would bring us all Gemütlichkeit.

 

Steve Bannon is a white supremacist, Jew-hating, abuser of women. Rahm continues his war on retiree pension benefits and health insurance.

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32nd Ward Alderman and member of the Council Progressive Caucus talks to NBC and WTTW reporter Carol Marin.

Lawndale News:

“When I retired after working 33 years for the Chicago Public Library, I did so with the understanding that I would receive subsidies for my health care,” said Mary Jones, president of the Chicago-area AFSCME Retirees Subchapter, “Now the City is abandoning City retirees, and we are faced with some very hard choices about how to get by on our modest pensions.”

Mother, and childcare specialist April Drayton described the tense realities in the childcare field due to Governor Bruce Rauner’s slashing of childcare and early learning budgets. “Despite having multiple degrees in early childhood education, I make just $11.35 an hour with no benefits, because that’s all the daycare owner can afford to pay me,” said Drayton. “We should be clear whose work is being undervalued and underpaid — the childcare workforce in Chicago is overwhelmingly women, half of us are African-Amercan, and another third of the workforce is Latino.”

We really value hearing directly from Chicagoans in this process,” said Progressive Caucus Chair Ald. Scott Waguespack (32). “We heard the voices of our constituents loudly–it is time to start asking the wealthiest among us and the major corporations who call Chicago home to pay more, so that we can fully fund the priorities and needs of our residents.”

The Progressive Reform Caucus includes Ald. Leslie Hairston (5); Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6); Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10); Ald. Toni Foulkes (16); Ald. David Moore (17); Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22); Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29); Ald. Scott Waguespack (32); Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35); Ald. Nick Sposato (38); and Ald. John Arena (45).

From AFSCME 31:

If the Emanuel Administration follows through on its planned phase out of all City of Chicago health care plans for retired city employees, many retirees could find themselves without any health insurance coverage at all after January 1.

The city claims that retirees will be able to get coverage under the Affordable Care Act, but there is a very real danger that President-Elect Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans will move quickly to repeal the ACA.

Retirees who aren’t eligible for Medicare do have a coverage option outside the ACA, but this new, city-initiated Blue Cross Blue Shield plan would cost around $1,400 a month ($16,800 a year). That’s nearly half of the average pension of a City of Chicago retiree in the municipal fund.

“It’s like the city of Chicago tied cement blocks to our feet and dropped us in Lake Michigan to drown,” said Dorothy Harding, an AFSCME Retirees sub-chapter 60 member.

AFSCME has enlisted the aid of concerned aldermen to press the Emanuel Administration to extend city health insurance subsidies for retirees with modest incomes who are not eligible for Medicare.

“It would be unconscionable for the city to ignore its responsibility to retirees,” AFSCME Council 31 Director of Research and Benefits Martha Merrill said. “We continue to press for a solution that ensures Chicago retirees have affordable health care in their retirement.”

Important info for Illinois teacher retirees on TRIP/TRAIL.

Thanks to Glen for posting this. Share widely.

The following is from Marge Sucansky, West Lake Shore Unit/Illinois Retired Teachers Association:

“Wednesday [June 1] I attended the DuPage Unit luncheon where the speakers were Pam Kogler from Central Management Services (CMS) and De De Rayback from United Health Care (UHC).  They discussed TRIP and TRAIL.  The former is the health insurance from the state for those who are not yet eligible for Medicare A and B. You do not have to do anything if you are on TRIP and not yet eligible for TRAIL yet unless you want to make a change.  You can go to the website:  www.benefitschoice.il.gov to check out your TRIP options.

“There has been some information in the media indicating that UHC is pulling out of Illinois.  This is not true for TRAIL. You are eligible for TRAIL if you are 65 by October 1.  If you are not in a state plan now, you will have to write or call CMS to get a benefits booklet for TRAIL.  If you are in TRIP now, you will be getting a YELLOW letter in September if you are eligible for TRAIL.  If you ignore it, you will be dropped from TRIP in December and will have to get other insurance.

“Enrollment period for TRAIL is October 14-November 15.  To stay in TRAIL you must continue to pay your Medicare Part B.

“TRAIL plan booklets will come out the beginning of October and you must be enrolled in Medicare as of September 2016 to be eligible.  Also, if you are not residing in the US, you will not receive TRAIL information but will have to go to the website for it.

“CMS is working on its online system.  In near future you will be able to make changes on line.

“If your procedure is covered by Medicare, it is covered by UHC.  If you have questions, call the number on the back of your TRAIL card.  If you do not want to get the home visit calls:  At the first call tell person to put you on the do not call list.  If you continue to get calls, call customer service and ask to be put on the do not call list.  Finally, if those options don’t work, go on donotcall.gov. If you have a frustrating situation, call the number on the back of your TRAIL card.  Most comments from the DuPage members who have had to call it, were positive about the service.

“Where to Access Information:

“Program Books (open enrollment and handbooks) Links to Carrier Websites: www.benefitschoice.il.gov  for Standard Plan TRIP,

www.cms.illinois.gov/thetrail  for TRAIL

State of Illinois Group Insurance, Medicare Unit–217-782-7007.

Hope this information is helpful to you.”

Marge

Medicare Advantage in Illinois. Don’t try selling the Brooklyn Bridge to a retiree.

Since the letter from CMS regarding the Medicare Advantage details came out I have received lots of comments and emails.

We are a suspicious bunch.

Why on earth would that be?

Experience!

The wording from IRTA Executive Director Jim Bachman that was passed along today was that any doctor who takes Medicare must take Medicare Advantage.

Right away I received messages from retirees who had called their Medicare doctors. They were told that they did not take Medicare Advantage.

Here is what I understand:

The Medicare Advantage plan worked out between the vendors and CMS is a unique plan, customized for Illinois state retirees. Not all doctors who take Medicare patients are aware of it as yet.

But according to what I have been told, doctors who take Medicare patients must take members from this Medicare Advantage plan.

Just as information still needs to get out to all members, doctors may not yet be aware of it.

The plan is called Total Retiree Advantage Illinois.

Trust, but verify.

But also know that the meetings about the coverage options are still to be scheduled and held. And most doctors are not yet aware of the new plan.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t read the small print.

Once again, here is the letter from CMS.

CMS letter on Illinois retiree Medicare supplemental.

Illinois state retirees have been holding their breath and many were fearing the worst these past weeks.

Today Central Management Services released some of the information that retirees who are Medicare eligible and using the state health care system have been waiting for.

For most the news will be good for a change.

Although every individual has different needs, the news of the plan produced an audible sigh of relief among the nearly 400 hundred delegates of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association meeting today and tomorrow in Springfield.

The cost of premiums is available here.

Individual premiums will be 75% subsidized.

Dependent coverage will be 25% subsidized.

Any doctor that accepts Medicare will accept users of Medicare Advantage.

All Medicare benefits that are currently provided will continue to be provided.

The deductible is reduced from the current Cigna plan from $500 to $250.

Out-of-pocket is reduced from $1250 to $1000.

A drug plan is included.

Many people will still have questions. But those meeting here were pleased at the news.

Finally it appears Illinois state retirees are hearing something good.

I am looking forward to hearing the reaction from readers.

Retiree health care and verification good news? Not enough fruit.

You all must have been making lots of phone calls and sending lots of emails about the switch to Medicare Advantage and the issue of verification of dependent eligiblity. IEA President Cinda Klickna has sent out a message to IEA members saying as much.

She says that as a result of her fighting to get information, our efforts have gained fruit.

What fruit?

The timeline for dependent eligibility has been pushed back and we will get another letter containing explanations.

As for the switch to Medicare Advantage? It may be good news for those getting hired as CMS trainers.

She says letters will be sent out explaining enrollment timelines and a plan for seminars. That is a good thing.

But it addresses only a very small portion of the concerns retirees have been raising about the switch to Medicare Advantage.

For example, nothing has changed about the short timeline that seniors have been given to make the choice before being tossed out of the system.

Many of us remain concerned about keeping our doctors and continuity of coverage.

(Message from IEA President Cinda Klickna)

Colleagues,
As we told you a few days ago, we’ve been fighting to get information about the impending changes to retiree health insurance by the state’s Department of Central Management Services (CMS).

The good news is that it appears the calls by IEA leaders and members to Gov. Quinn are bearing fruit. This afternoon CMS, at the direction of the governor’s office, called me today to make sure IEA members had the latest update on this important issue.

What’s new

CMS’s trainers have been trained to deal with questions about the insurance changes, allowing the agency to send out the definitive information.

What we know

Letters will be sent from CMS next week to retirees outlining the enrollment timeline, rates and product information.

  • Each retiree will also receive a reminder postcard informing them of the enrollment timeline, kits from each vendor that apply to a person’s area of residence and a final follow-up reminder postcard.
  • Seminars will be conducted across the state.
  • On a separate issue, for those people concerned about verification requirements for dependents, a separate letter will be sent from CMS.

What you should do

Visit the CMS web site.

Please continue to check the IEA website for the latest updates.

The in box. What is the root of the current health insurance issue? SB1313 under the radar.

A reader writes:

Despite the denials of many organizations at the time, Senate Bill 1313 is the reason we are in the mess we are in with retiree insurance.

Many groups said SB 1313 affected ONLY State employees, and not teachers.

SB 1313 passed the Illinois House on May 9,2012, by a vote of 74 yes, 43 no; and the Illinois Senate the very next day, May 10, 2012, by a vote of 31 yes, 20 no.

On May 11, 2012, the education newsletter of Jim Broadway stated:

“We recently observed how quickly dramatic changes in state policy can be made and advised vigilance. In some cases, the action comes in such a rapid blur that vigilance does no good. When SB 1313 passed both chambers by the morning after its language surfaced, the question was: What did they do?

“SSNS has received other questions. Who is affected? Are the legislators cutting their own health benefits too? How about the judges? I pay my health premium, so how does this affect me?

“The answers: Members of all five state-administered retirement systems, active and retired, are affected. That includes legislators, state employees, judges, university employees and downstate educators. 

“The ‘free’ health care enjoyed by 78,000 retirees is ended. (My note: Teachers did not receive free health care.)  Others should expect their premiums to rise.”

Please find below the wording of the relevant part of SB 1313 as signed into law on June 21, 2012, by Governor Pat Quinn:

“Beginning on the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 97th General Assembly, the Director of Central Management Services shall, on an annual basis, determine the amount that the State shall contribute toward the basic program of group health benefits on 
behalf of annuitants (including individuals who (i) participated in the General Assembly Retirement System, the State Employees’ Retirement System of Illinois, the State Universities Retirement System, the Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois, 
or the Judges Retirement System of Illinois and (ii) qualify as annuitants, survivors (including individuals who (i) receive an annuity as a survivor of an individual who participated in the General Assembly Retirement system, the State Employees’ Retirement 
system of Illinois, the State Universities Retirement System, the Teachers’ Retirement system of the State of Illinois, or the Judges Retirement System of Illinois and qualify as survivors and retired employees.  The remainder of the cost of coverage for each 
annuitant, survivor, or retired employee, as determined by the Director of Central Management Services, shall be the responsibility of that annuitant, survivor, or retired employee.

“Contributions required of annuitants, survivors, and retired employees shall be the same for all retirement systems and shall also be based on whether an individual has made an election under the Illinois Pension Code.  Contribution may be based on annuitants’, survivors’, or retired employees’ Medicare eligibility, but may not be based on Social Security eligibility.”