Opinion: Prescription Drug Benefits Bill Is Flawed

I am the president of AFSCME Maryland Retiree Chapter 1, representing Maryland state retirees. I worked for 30 years for the Highland Health Facilities and retired in 1991. I did my job, not to get rich, but to serve my community, knowing that if we committed ourselves to public service we could retire with dignity.

Unfortunately, retired state workers like myself have had to spend the past three months coming to Annapolis to fight for benefits that we were promised. We have been fighting for a full reinstatement of our prescription drug benefits. They were part of the deal when we retired and many of us need them to live.

Senate Bill 946 is an attempt to mitigate the effects of moving all retirees to Medicare Part D, but the bill is flawed because it assumes that Medicare Part D is comparable to the current plan, which is not correct. The state’s current prescription plan is straightforward: there is a premium, there are co-pays, and there is an out-of-pocket maximum. Retirees are accustomed to this process.

The bill is creating a totally different program, as it separates retirees into groups and is confusing even to legislators. While this legislation provides an out-of-pocket maximum for some retirees, it provides no supplemental benefits for those hired after 2011. The state’s prescriptions drug plan, which it better, was promised to all retirees.

This poorly crafted legislation assumes the Department of Budget and Management will have the capacity to meet the needs of retirees. But the last six months have clearly shown this assumption wrong, as the department was overwhelmed and not able to efficiently meet our needs. It also assumes that Medicare Part D will remain the same, but it is a federal program and any administration could change the program at a whim.

According to the fiscal note, 40 percent of retirees will pay more than $500 more under this legislation than the current plan, and that doesn’t even consider that future retirees will see an even higher cost. Retirees are on a fixed income, and our money is already spread thin. We will now have to decide between which prescriptions we can, and which we cannot, afford.

— IDA WARD

The writer is the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Retiree Chapter 1.

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