Thursday, January 12, 2006

Coal Company Retirees, M'care Part D, UMWA update

This is a followup to my post last week in this blog about coal retirees getting threatened with losing their company healthcare benefits if they didn't enroll in a Medicare Part D plan by December 31, 2005.

According to Brian Sampson in the President's office at the United Mine Workers Union (UMWA), all the coal companies the UMWA deals with nationwide took the 28% government incentive to keep all their current retiree drug benefits in place except these four: Peabody, Consol, Arch, and Bluestone. These four companies instead demanded each of their retirees (and their dependants) enroll in a Part D plan or lose all retiree health coverage by December 31, 2005.

UMWA quickly went into negotiations with these four companies to advocate the position that the collective bargaining agreements in place guaranteed these retirees their existing benefits, and they could not be forced to enroll in a Part D plan to keep what they already had a right to. UMWA, however, did send letters to their member retirees recommending that they go ahead and enroll while the union continued to dispute the actions of the companies.

According to a press release from UMWA issued December 29, 2005, the companies have all agreed not to take away the health benefits of those who have not enrolled in drug plans while the dispute is resolved. According to Brian, all four companies have also agreed that they will provide wraparound coverage at the levels they provided before. This means that retirees would not have to pay any more out of pocket than they did before. Hopefully they would each have two prescription cards, one from the Part D provider they chose, and one from the company's provider which would cover deductibles and copays beyond the out-of-pocket limits they had before. If the companies require burdensome paperwork or other hoops for retirees to jump through to get the wraparound coverage, this will be an important issue for advocacy.

Also according to Brian all sides have agreed to expedite the issue, and if they cannot come to an agreement it will go through the Resolution of Dispute (ROD) process of collective bargaining, to be decided by a board of trustees. If the UMWA is not satisfied with that decision, they may take it to the next level which is arbitration. Brian expects that the resolution will be final before May 15, 2006, since all sides know that the federal legislation creating Part D imposes penalties on current beneficiaries who enroll after that date.

So at this point we at WVSLA agree that it is probably best for these retirees who have not yet enrolled to go ahead and do so. Humana is the company with the lowest premiums in West Virginia, and though UMWA does not endorse the company, they suggest their members who haven't chosen yet to consider enrolling in Humana to at least get enrolled in something. If the companies do provide wraparound coverage it won't much matter what the Part D plan covers since the companies will make up the difference, so low premiums will suit most retirees best.

Because of the agreements reached so far, retirees should not be experiencing coverage lapses. Consol retirees who are having problems with coverage at the pharmacy can contact Consol's retiree call center at 1-877-240-0139. Retirees from Peabody, Arch, and Bluestone who are experiencing coverage problems can contact the union at (304) 346-0342.


At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It appears that the Consol number is not owrking. I am not sure why, but if anyone knows or has another number, that would be great.


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