NewsPub Notes

‘The Greatest Generation’ Begins to Refigure Health Insurance

If you were a journalist looking for a peg to hang a column on, you could call the UGA faculty who began arriving here in 1967 our “Greatest Generation.” That was the watershed year, when the Georgia governor and legislature finally faced up to the economic reality that a better University of Georgia would cost money—a lot of money. The appropriated funds started a flood of new, young faculty coming here to teach and propelled UGA out of the backwaters of sleepy, Southern academia. Most newcomers were not from around here, and by their very presence they shook up faculty and students in issues of racial and sexual discrimination and attitudes toward the Vietnam War. They also threw new energy into the classrooms, catching the attention of many students who previously had viewed classes as necessary for fraternity and sorority eligibility.

The forces of entropy descended on the “Greatest Generation.” Many ultimately were denied tenure in departments that resisted their modernizing influence, and those who stayed had to contend with the corporatization of the university, as it was forced to a more “business-like” footing in order to manage the new money. Even so, the faculty who began arriving here began the transition to a school nationally prominent in many departments.

Now, most of those young faculty are retired (one of them just this semester!), and as you know from reading this column, if not from reading your mail, the retirees will soon be forced to plunge into an insurance exchange and figure out which plan to buy, since the present University System of Georgia retiree health insurance coverage will be terminated as of Jan. 1. USG will pay a generous amount into a health maintenance account for retirees to use toward defraying the costs of their new policies, but since the costs of the various plans that will be available beginning in 2016 have not yet been announced, it remains to be seen whether retirees will end up paying more than at present or settling for less coverage than the seamless plan they now enjoy (and pay for).

So, here we have the “Greatest Generation,” after their lifetimes of working for the University of Georgia being forced to sit down and plow through instructions and informational websites and talk with “dedicated” counselors on the telephone in order to start over and figure out what is the best and most affordable plan. After fulfilling their contracts with the university, they have found out that the university has reneged on the health insurance it promised when they were hired. And they know that scrambling into the insurance market isn’t easy when you’re old.

“For any of us who wondered how the Republican ‘voucher’ program of health care coverage might work,” UGA retiree Bert Richmond wrote in Flagpole on Aug. 19,  “we now have the opportunity to experience it first-hand. When we were hired, we were promised that we would continue with a pension and with the same health care plan as when employed if we worked enough years. We wonder what happened to those promises. Verbal agreements were once honored in Georgia.”

Retiree Andy Horne pointed out in an unpublished letter, “Then, when one figures there are at least 16,000 members (an estimate I heard at one point) who are going to be doing the work that USG did previously, if each of us puts in 10 hours on the project, that comes out to about 160,000 hours of our time being devoted to something that was previously handled by USG. Since we are retirees, I’m guessing USG figures we have the time on our hands to do this, but the time commitment also involves considerable angst and stress. This is the topic about which I am the most irritated.”

And retiree Joe Wisenbaker wrote in FlagpoIe, also on Aug. 19: “USG’s ‘Health Care Basics’ for 2015 provides a nice table with 2015 premium rates for retired employees showing retiree and ‘employer’ contributions for various situations involving dependents/spouses, choice of health insurance plan and Medicare enrollment status. Ignoring the Kaiser Senior Advantage Plan (only available in a handful of metro counties and NOT Clarke), the lowest claimed employer contribution for a single Medicare eligible retiree already enrolled in Medicare is $280 per month or $3,360 per year. The $2,736 we’re told will go into our individual accounts is, therefore, at best 81percent of that and way lower against any of the other listed ‘employer’ contributions. I’m just not sure how the arithmetic works out that the total of what’s going into our ‘accounts’ for next year is the same as USG’s contribution to our insurance for this year.”

These are just three observations from retirees. You can bet they are echoed by thousands and no doubt balanced by guarded optimism from some. All of them soon will be hard at work trying to figure out how to insure their health in their old age.