Fact: The State had a contract with its employees; the terms of the contract, including the scope of the work (the job description) and the compensation (salary and benefits), were agreed to by both parties. The State has violated that contract.
Fact: 40% of the cost of retirees’ prescription drug plan is paid for by the retirees themselves plus federal funds paid to the State. (MD Department of Legislative Services)
Fact: At least 60% of affected retirees do not have the financial wherewithal to pay the estimated $500 – $10,000 A YEAR additional out-of-pocket costs for their prescription medications. (MD Department of Legislative Services)
For many MD state retirees – who have NOT been spending their well-deserved retirement tethered to the inside-and-below-the-fold news from the bowels of Annapolis – the letter from the MD Department of Budget & Management (DBM) a year ago was a bombshell from out of the blue: in May 2018, retirees were stunned to read their prescription drug costs would increase as much as $10,000/year because their state retiree drug coverage benefit would end and they must enroll in a federal Medicare Part D plan before Jan. 1, 2019.
In spite of the outcry of thousands of State Retirees (and current State employees who will also be affected), members of the 2019 General Assembly apparently felt obliged to accept the flawed information from the Department of Legislative Services (based on information provided by Hogan’s Department of Budget & Management) to kill the one bill (House Bill 98, introduced by Baltimore County Delegate Eric Bromwell) that would have restored their promised benefit.
Then, as the 90 days of the 2019 General Assembly Session raced by, the members glossed over the complex fiscal details of retirees’ prescription drug coverage, abandoned the moral and legal obligation of the state to its current and former employees, and ignored the detailed counter-arguments and documentation provided by their constituents, to adhere to a direction set by the Governor and House and Senate leadership. Their goal came to be the ‘deadline’ of Sine Die. They met that deadline with a patchwork of Band-Aids thrown together on the fly in an attempt to respond to the deluge of phone calls and emails they were receiving from outraged and incredulous constituents. Those efforts of the General Assembly to mollify their furious and fearful retirees failed. Retirees know the State has violated their contract and are not giving up on what they are owed.
Thankfully for retirees, all is in suspension as a result of the preliminary injunction slapped on the State in October 2018 by federal Judge Peter J. Messetti, US District Court for the District of Maryland, requiring the state to continue their prescription drug plan coverage until the case is settled. Retiree Ken Fitch (and his fellow-plaintiffs, Deborah Heim, Mary Frye and Phylis Reinard) and attorneys Deborah Hill and Breon Johnson have demonstrated that, indeed, David CAN succeed against Goliath. All retirees are grateful for their determined efforts that have benefited all of us. (see Fitch et al v. State of Maryland et al)
The “Band-Aid” (Senate Bill 946, introduced by Senator Melony Griffith) was passed over a month ago, on 4/3/2019. DBM has finally updated its website with some very basic information on the three new programs established by the bill. No details about the new programs or costs for participation are provided. The main DBM message for retirees at this point is: “PLEASE NOTE THAT THE EARLIEST THESE PLANS COULD BE IMPLEMENTED IS JANUARY 1, 2021.”
Meanwhile, retirees are continuing to contact their state representatives to try to educate them about the facts (retiree experts include forensic accountants, attorneys, and other knowledgeable individuals). Ken Fitch has begun inviting lawmakers to his town hall-style meetings around the state towards that end, and to demand they reinstate the prescription drug benefit by introducing new legislation during the next session of the MD General Assembly, in January 2020.
Attorneys Hill and Johnson are gathering additional names of participants for a petition asking the court that the case be certified as a class action lawsuit. The proposed classes are:
1. Retirees, 65 years or older or disabled
2. Retirees not yet 65 but retired
3. Current employees hired before 7/1/2011 and vested at least 5 years.
The attorneys are also collecting Medicare Cost Forms designed to find out how much each individual state retiree would have to pay for Medicare Part D without their state benefit. (The information can be generated by going to www.Medicare.gov to run the calculations for your particular medications.)
In the meantime, there are two closed Facebook groups closely following this matter (there is some overlap in membership):
WE Matter RXdrug Coverage Group established by Ken Fitch in 2018 – 2,100 members plus 200 via email
Maryland State Government Retirees & Employees established in 2010 – 3,812 members
This crisis did not happen overnight. In 2010, the State of Maryland created the Public Employees’ and Retirees’ Benefit Sustainability Commission to study and make recommendations with respect to State-funded health care benefits and pensions provided to State and public education employees and retirees. In 2011, ignoring cautions raised during Commission deliberations and strong union opposition, the state passed a law eliminating retirees’ prescription drug coverage in 2020, subsequently moved up to 2019.
To add insult to injury, they didn’t tell anyone, especially state retirees, until seven years later.
The affected retirees and employees – variously reported by the state as 45,000 and 90,000 individuals – are not finished fighting the theft of the benefits they worked hard to earn.
Ms. Richkus, who served as MD Secretary of General Services, Jan 1999 – Jan 2003, and Commissioner, Port of Baltimore, MD Port Administration, July 2008 – Jan 2014, has written previously on this subject:
3/4/2019 – Maryland Matters – State Should Reinstate the Retirees Prescription Benefits They were Promised
3/18/2019 – Forward Baltimore – Don’t Use Inaccuracies to Sell Bad State Retiree Drug Plan
4/3/2019 – Forward Baltimore – Last Chance Missed to Rectify State Retiree Drug Benefit Theft