Some county retirees oppose new insurance plan
It seems the dust still hasn’t settled over last week’s Orange County Commissioners Court meeting on retired employees insurance and benefits.
The Orange County Commissioners Court unanimously approved with a split vote regarding retired county employees insurance and benefits at their meeting on the morning of June 15.
The agenda item called for adopting changes to the county’s health insurance plan for Medicare eligible retirees. County Judge Brint Carlton, Precinct 2 Commissioner Barry Burton and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jody Crump voted for the changes while Precinct 1 Commissioner David Dubose and Precicnt 3 Commissioner John Banken voted no.
The final agenda item pertained to changes to the county’s Retirement Benefits Policy which was last adopted in 1999. No action was taken so that Douglas Manning, assistant county attorney, could research legal options for the commissioners court.
At the prior week’s meeting, commissioners approved staying with the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan for county employee retirees at their regular meeting. The courtroom was packed with retirees for both meetings with some lengthy discussions.
It was during the agenda item that called for adopting changes to the Orange County’s health insurance plan for Medicare eligible retirees (the Silver Care Plan) that the longest discussion ensued.
Tier 4 pertains to prescription drugs as the following:
Tier 1 is usually includes generic medications are at the lowest cost.
Tier 2 is usually preferred name medications and are mid-range cost along with Tier 3.
Tier 3 is usually non-preferred name medications.
Tier 4 is usually specialty medications are at the highest cost.
Jean Parker retired from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office after 23 years of service.
She said the commissioners still don’t have the number the number of retirees that will be affected.
“They didn’t mention Tier 3 at all as an added expense,” she said. “One lady I know said it will cost her $1,000 more a year. People don’t go to the hospital every year. They (commissioners court) say we will save on our deductibles and co-pays, but for a normal person it will go up $1,000 for the new insurance instead of Blue Cross/Blue Shield.”
She’s also of the opinion there’s more than one person in the county on Tier 4 medications as the commissioners presented at the meeting.
Another sticking point for Parker is the court didn’t notify retirees who live out of town. She said they will discover the change in plans when they visit their pharmacy.
“We wanted just one more year to compare the new plan with the old plan. I would had compiled a spreadsheet (on the differences), but they (the commissioners) already had their minds made up. They didn’t look anywhere else in the budget to save money. There’s no transparency in the budget,” Parker said.
She further believes the commissioners never shopped around for other insurance plans and instead went with the Texas Association of Counties.
“The retirees deserved nothing less than a letter that they were considering changing insurance policies,” she said.
Some of the retirees have created a Facebook page and communicating back and forth. Likewise, Carlton has also taken to social media to present his side.
Parker said the insurance plan could still be changed if another county commissioner decides to vote differently until the budget is adopted later in the early Fall.
“Dubose and Banken can’t get another commissioner to go along,” she said. “One employee will go $860 in the hole if she goes to the doctor four times a year. It’s a ruse to get people to want to buy into,” she said.
Parker said the county could save $20,000 for 15 years if the new HR director, Minnie Hightower, was paid on the scale of a new employee rather than coming in as a 15 year employee.
“They only want to save money on the back of employees. They need to look elsewhere for cuts,” she said. “I’ve always stood up for what is right.”
Parker believes Burton and Carlton are using their positions on the Orange County Commissioners Court as a stepping stone for better jobs in the future. She said they are damaging the Orange County Republican Party and retirees and their families form the largest voting block.
“They will find out after the fact. They will find out politically,” Parker said. “The employees and their families turned the election for them last time and we have the power to turn it again.”
She gave as an example Ron Sigler who was Precinct 1 commissioner from 1993-1996. The county employees through a combined effort rallied all their families and friends in that precinct to vote against him. He made some unpopular financial decisions and he showed favoritism to one employee, she said.
“The employees and retirees have a large voting block and we actively rally support for the candidate that we endorse. We can put you in office and we can take you out,” she said.
Parker is of the view current employees will one day have to pay all of their insurance costs.
“They’re headed that way. The way the wording the commissioners used like pay and offer. Future employees will have to pay their own,” Parker said. “When they get rid of a valued employee then they’ll know.”
Beamon Minton, former Precinct 4 commissioner, said he didn’t agree the new plan was a good plan.
“I once sat on the court and told retirees they would have the same plan. They won’t have the same coverage they had when they were actively employed,” he said. “There are many, many, many physicians that are dropping out of Medicare. It’s not a PPO; it’s an HMO. I have three family members who are in the medical profession and doctors from all over are dropping Medicare. They will not accept it.”
He added this is not the same plan he and others retired on.
“This is not a good plan for everyone. It may be good for the court and save taxpayers money, but it’s a moral thing because I told the employees they would have the same coverage they had when they were employed. You know and I know Medicare is a failing system and it won’t be there for the future with everything that is happening. It’s (county’s Silver Care Plan) not a good plan,” he said.
At last week’s meeting, Pat Clark, retired district judge, attempted to speak from the audience. Carlton told Clark he should know as a judge not to just speak out of turn.
Clark said many people spoke out at the previous week’s meeting and they didn’t have to wait to be recognized.
“June 8 was the date,” Banken said.”Don’t give me this June 15 business. On June 8 something was done. Now you say forget that date, we’ve discovered another date. We have an obligation to the people here and an obligation to those outside of here.Somebody is misleading somebody and I don’t see how that can be done. When you say something you should stick to it.”
Carlton said he received the information from TAC it would be June 15. Clark answered TAC said it would be on June 8 at a retirees workshop.
“Are you trying to change what was done last week?” Clark asked.
Carlton said he didn’t have a name who told him of the date change.
“It was new information and we have more time than we thought,” he said.
Clark retorted he was trying to put the screws to the county retirees.
“We walked away last week and thought we’d have it another week and have it for another year,” Clark said.
“We’ve made a mistake. I don’t think anyone on this court is trying to put the screws to anyone,” Carlton said.
Clark asked Carlton if he was trying to change things from last week?
That’s why we’ll have a vote, Carlton answered.
Clark then asked each commissioner individually how they would vote. Some answered Clark, some wouldn’t answer and some said they would wait until the vote.
Clark said on June 23 he felt sorry for the current county employees.
“They thought they had the benefit vested and had it taken away. They were hired under the impression they would not lose the benefit. If it’s a new program why not start it with new hires?” he asked.