Montgomery retirees won't lose city health benefits after heated council meeting

Updated: Jul. 17, 2018 at 8:47 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - City of Montgomery retirees will not have their health benefits changed after a heated Montgomery City Council meeting Tuesday night.

About a month ago, the city of Montgomery notified city retirees that their health coverage would change to Willis Towers Watson's Individual Marketplace through Via Benefits, a private Medicare Marketplace. Retirees were concerned about the changes and added costs.

Randy McFarland, who has been retired for 24 years, addressed the council, and cited a 1993 ordinance that promised health coverage for city retirees.

"Over the years the city has little by little found ways to reduce the impact by forcing retirees by duress to choose the healthcare benefits from future employers if offered instead of retaining the healthcare provided by the city," McFarland said. "That has not been enough."

The ordinance states, "The City of Montgomery will provide an adequate quality healthcare program to employees, retirees and dependents of retirees and employees in the event of illness or injury." It also says that the healthcare program would be managed by the Risk Management Division of the City of Montgomery Department of Finance.

Many retirees, including Caroline Mozingo, called out the city for announcing the change so suddenly and without asking for the input of the retirees. Mozingo also said, after research, that monthly premiums would go up, possibly more than $200, and reimbursement is slow, at best. 76-year-old Les Snodgrass said he and his wife spent six hours on the phone with Via, learning that they would lose money and coverage, despite the mayor's claim that they would save hundreds of dollars.

Snodgrass said the situation, presented as a win-win, is actually a lose-lose. He said with the new plan retirees would lose security and stability, and the city would lose integrity and reputation.

The council questioned their role in the decision, saying it was made by the executive branch. Mayor Todd Strange said the amount of money the city pays into the benefits program has increased by a couple million dollars each year, and he cannot make the retirement board give them more money. He also said many retirees have already signed up for the new plan with Via Benefits, which was met with cries that they were forced to.

After boos, the mayor asked if the retirees would like him to resign; they said yes, and Strange said okay and sat down.

When the meeting continued to get out of order, Councilman Glenn Pruitt suggested a 30 minute recess.

After the recess, the council unanimously approved a new resolution to recommend that the mayor  hold off on agreeing to the transfer of health benefits to Via Benefits until next year. The mayor accepted the recommendation, but he cautioned that now they will need to redo the budget to find the $3 million to fund the city benefits plan.

"When you know the facts are on your side but right isn't, it's very difficult because at the end of the day what we are trying to do is have comparable coverage at a lesser cost," Strange said. "We could show example after example, but change is scary."

Retirees would have had to opt into the new plan by Aug.  31. After Tuesday night's meeting, any changes will be held off for at least a year.

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