One of the great things about the newspaper business is that it puts you into contact with people you wouldn’t know otherwise. Careful, or even casual, readers of this column will remember that a running topic recently has been the University System of Georgia’s abandonment of its retiree insurance coverage and the scramble to change over to a brokered system awarded to a worldwide conglomerate called Aon-Hewitt.
As soon as insurance coverage became an issue here, we heard from a UGA retiree named Joe Wisenbaker, one of those people inclined by temperament and training to view the glass as half-empty. Naming himself “The Grumpy Retiree,” Joe not only began to contribute his thoughts to Flagpole, he also established a Facebook page, where he uploads a running commentary of cautionary and helpful information from himself and others, regarding problems retirees have encountered or may encounter as they attempt to work out their future insurance coverage through Aon. Joe just posted a survey you can fill out to bring your own concerns and problems to the attention of The Grumpy Retiree. Take a look.
Here’s the short version of Joe’s take on USG’s retiree insurance situation, from a recent post on The Grumpy Retiree.
“The termination of the health plans for University System retirees has been on the books for several years, though being unannounced ‘til Pete McCommons was able to blow the whistle on it in the Flagpole earlier this year. It isn’t obviously political in nature. After all, it wasn’t mandated by the Georgia legislature or the Governor’s office. It has its roots more deeply in the culture being promoted among those charged with responsibility for the stewardship of the system and comes from a corporate climate that places no value whatsoever on promises made for decades to employees but, seemingly, without legal obligation. The retirees are being offered but one take-it-or-leave-it option involving a fixed-cost (to the System) health reimbursement account that can be used to purchase Medicare Advantage, Medigap and/or Medicare Part D drug plans not on the open market, but in a ‘private market’ created by one of the very same companies that has, for decades, promoted the idea of the ‘unsustainability’ of health benefits for government, university and non-profit retirees. The System ‘promises’ to provide annual contributions to those HRA accounts in the future, but no ‘promise’ of their keeping up with rising costs. Of course, none of the ‘promises’ are any more legally binding on the System than their original ‘promise’ of health plans for retirees in the first place.”
Now comes another retiree, George Carey, who taught tax law in the Georgia State University law school. He adds some observations to The Grumpy Retiree Facebook page, pointing out that the Medicare Advantage plans include drug plans, so they must be bought through Aon. He has also alerted us to several articles detailing problems with Aon’s involvement in other state retirement-benefit systems, where Aon was sued in California and has been fired in North Carolina and fired and sued in North Dakota for failure to deliver promised systems and services. Read all about Aon’s corporate problems on The Grumpy Retiree, which is becoming a sort of clearinghouse for retirees sharing their questions Aon and USG problems.
Meanwhile, UGA retirees are in the midst of choosing the plans that will best fulfill their need for the insurance coverage they thought they would already have, until USG’s big surprise.
Most retirees will sign up through Aon, taking the policies recommended by the Aon advisors. Those who want to be more adventurous and perhaps save some money can sign up only for a Part D drug policy through Aon and buy a Medigap policy (not Medicare Advantage) on the open market. All retirees should be sure to peruse The Grumpy Retiree on Facebook, where important issues are addressed, such as what to expect in the way of extra documentation and proof of previous coverage if you buy outside Aon.
UGA retirees have been thrown into a jungle, and they’re forced to be dependent on Aon as their guide, in spite of doubts about Aon’s competence and motives. Unfortunately, there is no UGA faculty organization standing up for retirees and their insurance needs, nor is there any kind of system-wide retiree organization.
Academics are like farmers, accustomed to being the final authority in their work and difficult to organize, leaving them vulnerable to systemic forces like agribusiness encroachments and insurance switcheroos. The Grumpy Retiree can grumble, but his colleagues have little recourse but to accept what they’re offered. Not everybody can make the effort to avoid being owned by Aon.