After a lengthy debate, one failed motion and one failed amendment, voters passed Article 5 of Special Town Meeting, mandating the transfer of town retirees to a Medicare extension plan.

 

After a lengthy debate, one failed motion and one failed amendment, voters passed Article 5 of Special Town Meeting, mandating the transfer of town retirees to a Medicare extension plan.

The article, which was sponsored by the Board of Selectmen, proposed adopting a state law that requires 46 town retirees transfer from their current health insurance, Master Health Plus, to a Medicare extension plan called Medex. According to selectmen, health insurance costs for town employees have risen from 8 percent of the town's entire budget to 15 percent in recent years.

Proponents of the article said the switch to the Medicare plan will save the town $150,000 annually and will save the retirees $106,000 in costs. The health plans are supposed to be equivalent in care with no change in the prescription medication benefit. All retirees have been informed of this switch and selectmen held a public information session about the change. The Finance Committee put its support behind the article.

"The goal is not to diminish benefits, but provide benefits at a reduced cost," said Peter Savage of Cook and Company, the town's health care consultant.

Savage said insurance under Master Health Plus for an individual retiree costs $725.58. Assuming a 10 percent increase beginning in the next fiscal year, the new cost would be $798.14. The town pays 50 percent of this total bringing the retiree's total to $399.07 a month. Under the proposed plan, an individual retiree will pay $93.50 a month for Medicare Part B and $217.80 a month for Medex, bringing the monthly grand total to $311.30, according to Savage. This results in a monthly savings of about $88 and an annual savings of over $1,000.

Suzanne Donohue, account executive with Blue Cross Blue Shield, said there were coverage differences between Medex and Master Health Plus. Under Master Health Plus, retirees paid an office copay of $5 and an emergency room fee of $25. These visits are free under Medex. She said the Medex coverage can also be used across the country, wherever the retiree resides.

However, several retirees saw flaws with the proposal. Dick Bayramshian of Vine Street said the insurance advisory committee had not been given enough time to review the plan. He also felt the retirees with long term illnesses would not receive the same coverage.

"It's not a bad program, but it doesn't go far enough," Bayramshian said. "Our oldest retirees of this town should feel like they're being taken care of."

Bayramshian proposed an amendment to Article 5 to defer action, sending the matter back to the Board of Selectmen and the insurance advisory committee. Town Moderator Allen Bornheimer said that amendment in effect meant the article would be indefinitely postponed. Selectmen Chairwoman Betsy Sullivan urged the voters not to indefinitely postpone Article 5, saying the article had been postponed from Annual Town Meeting in March to Special Town Meeting because the deadline for retirees to sign up for the plan was at the end of March.

"By passing this now, it gives retirees the time to make changes in a comfortable fashion," Sullivan said.

When put to a vote, the motion to indefinitely postpone Article 5 was defeated.

John Sjostedt of Kingstown Way and a town retiree then proposed an amendment to the article.

"I think the plan is to the benefit of the town and the taxpayer," Sjostedt said. "My only hang-up is the burden on the retiree of Medicare [Part B]. I think the town should fund it at 50 percent."

Bornheimer refused to accept the motion. The article passed.