Insurance for retired officers tops discussion at Tyrone council meeting

Last week, The Daily Herald reported that four retired Tyrone police officers received a letter from the borough’s Director of Administration Phyllis Garhart stating the retired officers medical coverage would be switched to Geisinger Health Plan from the Blue Cross/Blue Shield that they are currently insured under. The letter stated the change would go into effect on May 1, 2003.
The four retired officers, Dennis Borman, Tom Cooper, George Sessaman and Jim Lego brought their grievence to last night’s meeting of Tyrone Borough Council.
“The contract dated January 1 through 31 December 2002 calls for the borough to to provide each full time officer after retirement Blue Cross/Blue Shield hospitalization and major medical plan in place at the time of retirement or a comparable plan selected by the individual,” said Borman. “I was just wondering why we are being changed to Geisenger? We retired under this contract and that is what is supposed to be provided to us under the contract.
“Also The Daily Herald ran an article Thursday, April 10, that says ‘the municipal employees insurance trust doesn’t provide Blue Cross/Blue Shield benefits or does any other insurance provider. It doesn’t say in our contract that it needs to be provided by that company.
“Another statement in there is that Blue Cross/Blue Shield isn’t available for purchase any longer,” said Borman. “I think Blue Cross/Blue Shield benefits are still available to be purchased. The final statement was, the main reason for the switch from Blue Cross/Blue Shield to GHP was a substantial cost savings to the borough. Is it not available anymore or was it for substantial savings to the borough?”
Mayor Pat Stoner deferred comment to Garhart and solicitor Larry Clapper.
“The reason why they received a notice is because the current collective bargaining agreement which council negotiated basically indicated that all active employees be moved over to the GHP plan. We have been told by MEIT (Municipal Employees Insurance Trust) that once that happens, retirees will be terminated,” said Garhart. “We have not moved those active retirees because of this. We can not get Blue Cross/Blue Shield in a group plan for four individuals. Especially if they are retirees. They want your active employees to insure your retirees.”
Borman opened up his Keystone Blue Book and addressed the council.
“One of the rules of eligibility states that those entitled to the coverage which we are under Blue Cross/Blue Shield is under a trust agreement or an employment contract which we were at the time that we retired,” he said. “The new contract does not have anything to do with the contract that we retired under.”
Garhart replied, “All I can restate is what I already said, the current carrier that carries us want the active with the retirees. They will not just cover retirees. That is point blank what they told us. They will terminate once I move the active people over.”
Borman asked, “what are we to do for insurance until then?”
“That is why you got the notice,” replied Garhart.
“Why weren’t we notified in advance,” questioned Borman. “We receive a registered letter telling us that two weeks later you have to have it turned in saying you got to be under Geisinger at the start of next month. It is not what the contract calls for. In my opinion, that is a breech of the contract.”
Mayor Stoner asked Clapper to address the situation.
“The comment regarding the contract indicating you get Blue Cross/Blue Shield, that was true as of that contract,” said Clapper. “Since that time, the borough has actively negotiated with your unions and the unions that represented them, decided to change. That was negotiated and put in your new contract. Just because it is listed in the contract doesn’t make it written in stone.
“What if Blue Cross/Blue Shield went bankrupt? You would still want to provide them with some type of health coverage.This is very similar to what they have with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. It is just the borough is not able to get Blue Cross/Blue Shield for four people who are not employeed active currently,” he continued. “This was a negotiated issue. The unions and the borough negotiated it and it is now in the new contract. The borough is doing what they can do to provide coverage as close to the coverage they have as possible. They will be doing it at substantial savings to the borough.”
Garhart said that the move to GHP is not a done deal.
“As council was aware, we are looking at other options to help take care of some of the issues that I heard from one member,” said Garhart. “He voiced his concerns and we are trying to address some of them with the plan we are looking at. It will be substantial savings to the borough if we are able to go with that. But the unions are again have to agree to this. We have a presentation to them on the 24th of this month.”
Clapper stated that there will be no lapse in coverage changing from one carrier to another.
Garhart assured the officers that the current Blue Cross/Blue Shield will stay in effect until at least June 1.
Former chief Tom Cooper was next to address council.
“Those other three people have their medical problems, I have mine. I have some pretty bad medical problems,” stated Cooper. “For me on this Geisinger (expletive), none of the doctors that I go to in Altoona for my heart, my strokes and seizures that I am having. None of those people are listed in that book. I can’t switch. I am not going to switch. I had some very severe medical problems and I want to stay with the doctors that I have. I have had open heart surgery, had a stroke and I have had seizures. You want to start charging $25 for prescriptions. That gets expensive for me. Now all the sudden after 10 years of being retired, bingo, you want to change our insurance. Come on, it is not fair.”
Mayor Stoner told Cooper that the new plan that the borough is looking at encompasses the same doctors as Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
Retired officer George Sessaman posed a question to the council.
“Answer me this if you can, you signed a contract and now you want to get out of it. You signed a contract you knew it was a bad deal and you want out of it,” said Sessaman. “You signed a contract that guarantees we would carry Blue Cross/Blue Shield 100 U then it goes down to section four where it says major medical plan in place at the time of their retirement which we still have is Blue Cross/Blue Shield or a comperable plan selected by the individual. If you get out Websters’ dictionary and look up the word individual, I don’t think you’ll see that it is a group of elected people. I think you’ll find out that you should have talked to the individuals. There are four of us here. We shouldn’t get mumbling with the heads turned way from us. We are looking towards you when we speak.”
Clapper responded to Sessaman.
“As far as the contract goes, clearly when you retired that is what your contract said,” said Clapper. “I will again reiterate, if Blue Cross/Blue Shield went bankrupt, we would have to change. What would you do? Would you stand there and say they can’t go bankrupt? That is not a very logical argument. In this case the borough is able to obtain substantially the same insurance at a much better price for the taxpayers of the borough and I believe that is what the council wanted to do. It is what the unions wanted to do. That is what happened.”
Council member Jim Beckwith addressed the retired officers.
“We’re not trying to take your insurance away from you,” said Beckwith. “We’re not trying to take any benefits from you. We’re trying to get comperable insurance to what you have now at a cheaper rate for the borough. Your benefits will be as close to what they are now as possible. If you have to pay a little more for your drug plan, that may be the way we have to go. This borough can no longer afford the medical insurance that is coming in for the people who are working. Now we negotiated a contract with the police union. Your bargaining unit, the police union that is in power right now is the union that decided to go with this. Since then, we have found through Phyllis (Garhart) we can buy insurance that is a lot cheaper but give us almost if not the exact coverage that you have. Give us a little time to work on this. Please give us some time.”
Sessaman asked, “so you are saying that you want to break the contract?”
Beckwith replied, “no, we’re not breaking the contract.”
Stoner then gaveled to stop the bantering between Sessaman and Beckwith.
The fourth retired officer, Jim Lego addressed the council.
“I really don’t understand what is going on here with council,” said Lego. “All I know is when I retired, the contract was pretty clear. It was through binding arbitration, awarded by an arbitrator. The borough signed it, we signed it. We left under that contract. What happened between the last 10-12 years since we retired has nothing to do with us. The contract we worked under is the contract we retired under. Binding arbitration, you can’t break it. We can’t break it. You had a chance to amend all this stuff. I still think that the attorneys for the borough should look at this very close. We are looking at this very close. What this means is if you do this, and you don’t follow through on that contract, you are in breech of that contract. It is that simple. We’re not whining. We are here to defend ourselves. We went through attorneys. We went through contracts with the borough. We lived up to our half, you live up to your half.”
Lego’s comments completed the public comment portion of the meeting.
Council approved:
• resolution 2003-08 which sets Mayor Stoner and council vice president Bill Latchford as designees of agent for the PEMA application;
• appointed Sharon Danaway and Tom Lang to the Intermunicipa Relations Committee;
• approved an allotment of $300 to the Tyrone Legion baseball team
• Approved the use of Reservoir Park to the Tyrone Community Players on October 18-19 for Scary Tales.