By The Independent
Members of the UC Livermore Lab Retiree Group are “overwhelmingly” in favor of taking legal action to try to restore membership in University of California health programs. The group’s leadership is calling for donations to make action possible.
The call for contributions follows a decision by John Garamendi, the newly elected congressman for the Livermore area, not to set up an investigating committee to help the retirees obtain more information about how the retirees came to be removed from benefits.
Disappointed in Garamendi’s decision, Retiree Group founder Joe Requa said the goal now is to create a legal fund of $150,000, which would enable the group to cover costs of filing a suit and pursuing documents necessary to make the group’s case. Meantime, the group is taking steps to become a non-profit organization.
“For those who offered additional funds, it is time to send them in,” he wrote in an email. “For those of you who have not yet contributed, I encourage you to do so.” He cautioned that people should not contribute funds that they cannot afford to lose, but also expressed his belief that the legal case is sound if resources grow to the point where it can be prosecuted.
“The likelihood of our losing for lack of funds is probably greater than losing because of a poor case,” he wrote.
Lawrence Livermore Lab employees and retirees were part of the UC group health coverage under a succession of contracts that lasted more than 50 years but ended in 2008, when a new contractor took over Laboratory management from University of California. At the time, the new contract promised continued benefits that were “substantially equivalent” to UC’s group plans. However, the contract wording was changed a year later under circumstances that have never been explained to retirees.
In contrast to the unified UC program, administered by a UC benefits group that took an interest in the welfare of retirees, many see the new health arrangements as an uncoordinated patchwork of plans that abandon individual retirees to fend for themselves in a complex and uncaring system.
Retirees share painful stories about elderly former colleagues or their spouses, retired in a group home in some distant part of the country, who have seen their medical coverage dropped or who have become hopelessly confused by the complex changes that have come about since the Laboratory was taken over by a for-profit contractor.
Even the 2010 Kaiser option, a group plan that has been chosen by several thousand Lab retirees for its simplicity and reliability, has become more complex and unreliable with the introduction of a balky health reimbursement arrangement administered by Bank of America. Many retirees who followed written directions from the bank have seen routine expenses refused or take hours to obtain approval.
Requa made note of the new Kaiser challenges, which began on January 1. He suggested that retirees pay their bills and then request reimbursement rather than try to use the so-called debit cards issued by Bank of America. The “card provided is not a debit card as promised,” he said. It “cannot be used to make automatic payments for monthly costs of coverage or Medicare Part B. The documentation from both Hewitt (the health program administrator) and Bank of America is at best inaccurate and misleading.”
The Retiree Group sees its move toward legal action as a last resort. They had hoped that, with Garamendi’s help, they could obtain documents showing how the decision was made to drop retirees from the University’s health programs. “Now that John Garamendi has taken a seat in the house, he has backed off on his commitment to support us,” said Requa. “Since UC’s general council has refused to deal with us, we are left with legal action as a last resort.”
He said the Retiree Group will now “ask (its lawyers) for a contract and a cost estimate to prepare a suit.” The time and cost of this step should be relatively predictable, but uncertainties grow after that. “At that point, we will need to reevaluate our finances and likelihood of success and decide whether to continue.”
The Retiree Group’s website, with more information and instructions on contributing, is http://llnlretiree.com