On Tuesday, the Joint Fiscal Committee voted 7 to 3 to increase all retirees’ co-pays on their pharmaceuticals and to increase the out-of-pocket pharmaceutical maximum. For the moment, they made no changes to the medical plan co-payments or premium contributions. The reason the committee took action on the pharmaceutical benefits is because it was up against the federal government’s deadline for increasing insured’s prescription benefits.
The changes are the same that were originally proposed by the Department of Administrative Services (see related document). The retail copayment for pharmaceuticals is the same for generics ($10) but the copayment for preferred brand name and non-preferred brand name each increase by $5 ($25 and $40). The mail copayment increases for all three categories: generics increase from $1 to $10, and preferred and non-preferred brand names jump $10 each ($50 and $70). In addition the out-of-pocket maximum increases by $250 for individuals (to $750) and by $500 for retiree and spouse (to $1,500). For those on a fixed income, those increases can be damaging.
Chapter 1 member Fred Carlson explained the impact the change will have on him.
“I have four regular prescriptions that are usually $1 a piece,” Carlson said. “With the new copayment, that will be a total of $40. Percentage wise, that’s a big increase. It’s not going to break me, but it’ll make a dent.”
He said the increase for brand-name prescriptions is also significant.
“If I have to get some new drug for something, that’s really going to make a difference,” he said.
The committee will meet again on Tuesday, Nov. 3 to address the remaining budget hole for the retirees’ health benefits. The reason they will be coming back is they are struggling with how to balance this budget without doing more harm to the retirees.
Many of the committee members spoke of the number of phone calls and emails they have received from retirees explaining their financial situation and what a hardship medical plan increases would cause them. Chapter 1 member Alyce Harper is among those who reached out to committee members. On Wednesday afternoon, she said she was scratching on paper trying to figure out how she and her mother (also a retired state employee) would be able to meet expenses.
“The problem is, they’re saying ‘it’s only $250 more, you should be able to handle that,’” Harper said. “They’re forgetting what’s already happened. Every time they get into trouble, they say ‘it’s just a little bit more.’”
She said many retirees are in the same position that she and her mother are in, largely because their contribution has increased but their retirement income remains the same.
“You can’t keep dumping it on us because there’s no way for retirees to keep coughing up a bit more when we’re not getting COLAs,” she said.
“I’m disabled and my mom is 80, neither of us can go out and get a part-time job,” Harper said. “So what do we do? Stop taking our meds? It could be a very cold winter.”
We appreciate the effort of all the retirees and active employees who took the time to contact the committee members either by phone, in-person, or through email. We also thank those who have attended meetings of the Fiscal Committee. You have played an important role in working to protect our benefits.
We can’t become complacent now. We need to keep this up between now and Nov. 3. We must ask the committee to increase the dollars needed to address the remaining shortfall from other revenue, not at the expense of long-term public servants during their retirement years. You can find contact information for the committee members here.
We will continue to keep you updated on this situation.