HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, December 28, 2007

EEOC and Retiree Health Care: Belated Christmas Gift . . . .

The New York Times reported yesterday on this EEOC ruling which declared,

. . . that employers could reduce or eliminate health benefits for retirees when they turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare. The policy, set forth in a new regulation, allows employers to establish two classes of retirees, with more comprehensive benefits for those under 65 and more limited benefits — or none at all — for those older.

More than 10 million retirees rely on employer-sponsored health plans as a primary source of coverage or as a supplement to Medicare, and Naomi C. Earp, the commission’s chairwoman, said, “This rule will help employers continue to voluntarily provide and maintain these critically important health benefits.”

Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose an average of 6.1 percent this year and have increased 78 percent since 2001, according to surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Because of the rising cost of health care and the increased life expectancy of workers, the commission said, many employers refuse to provide retiree health benefits or even to negotiate on the issue.  In general, the commission observed, employers are not required by federal law to provide health benefits to either active or retired workers.

Dianna B. Johnston, a lawyer for the commission, said many employers and labor unions had told it that “if they had to provide identical benefits for retirees under 65 and over 65, they would just drop retiree health benefits altogether for both groups.” In a preamble to the new regulation, published Wednesday in the Federal Register, the commission said, “The final rule is not intended to encourage employers to eliminate any retiree health benefits they may currently provide.”

But AARP and other advocates for older Americans attacked the rule. “This rule gives employers free rein to use age as a basis for reducing or eliminating health care benefits for retirees 65 and older,” said Christopher G. Mackaronis, a lawyer for AARP, which represents millions of people age 50 or above and which had sued in an effort to block issuance of the final regulation. “Ten million people could be affected — adversely affected — by the rule.”

I am sure that this will turn out well . . . . it actually might force the enactment of some rather grand health care reform.   Attaturk at Firedoglake expresses some of the sentiments that I felt when I read the article and responds to the EEOC's Ms. Earp by stating,

No, Ms. Earp, here is what it will do.
For younger retirees (generally prosperous to begin with) the same ol' same ol', i.e. "don't get sick".  For those who retire at 65 or older; or the first group -- when they usually get the far as their former employer is concerned, they can just go ahead and die.

It's all on the tax payers now, and they demand their tax cuts, or so we are always told.  If ever there was a new policy interpretation that you know is going to work out badly, this is it.

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