The University of Maine System is reneging on a promise to retirees: Effective Jan. 1, UMS is terminating retiree group health coverage effective. Get ready to spend a lot more money out of your own pockets.

The system’s nearly 2,900 retirees were promised lifetime coverage, many with UMS paying full lifetime premiums. Now, UMS will provide an annual stipend of $2,100 for retirees to buy coverage to fill Medicare gaps. This is wrong. A $2,100 health reimbursement account for each retiree (plus $800 for an eligible spouse) doesn’t begin to cover out-of-pocket yearly medical costs, and the university system knows it.

I am a University of Maine System retiree, having worked on the University of Maine campus for well over 20 years. A key reason I worked there was for the benefits, for myself and my family. When I retired in 2007 at age 60, UMS promised me lifetime medical insurance for free once I turned 65, other than my Medicare premium. Between 60 and 65, I paid a significant amount out of pocket for this benefit. The implication was that my medical costs would be under control from then on.

UMS has been working on this change for more than two years. When I asked how many retirees were consulted, they did not answer. Translation: None of us was contacted.  The answer I did get, in an email from Frederick Meserve Jr., employee benefits and wellness manager, was:

“The Board of Trustees and the Chancellor has approved a change to this noted arrangement. As of 01/01/2021, you will receive an HRA contribution as a retiree in the amount of $2100.00 a year and your eligible spouse will receive $800.00 a year to pay towards medical expenses. No longer is a premium paid in your behalf.”

Think about this change. Retirees are age 60 and over; some in their 90s. Change isn’t easy. The short time an older person has to implement the new scenario will create financial and emotional stress.

UMS’ timing is inconsiderate. COVID-19 is running rampant.

The UMaine System has presented this as a benefit to each individual retiree. But it won’t cover their out-of-pocket costs, and many have significant medical expenses.

Did UMS administrators calculate the financial impact on retirees? I have not seen such a calculation..

Is this a form of discrimination against the elderly? It sure feels like it. How many fixed-income retirees will need to apply for MaineCare?

The benefit is to the UMS budget at retirees’ expense. Retirees spent a major portion of their careers supporting UMS and the university students of Maine, thinking that the system had our backs. Shame on the system for picking on the old folks.

For the elderly, medical costs exceed 5 percent to 10 percent of our income. Hence, I offer a budget-balancing counterproposal: a 5 percent pay cut for UMS administrators making $75,000 to $99,999 per year, and a 10 percent pay cut for administrators making $100,000 or more per year.

The UMS Board should put all the administrators – not the retirees – on this new insurance arrangement for the first year, to see the real cost impact of what they are doing to us.

To all affected, please get on the Maine Education Association mailing list to monitor the status of an effort to restore a benefit that has been unilaterally stolen from us. Send your email address to Sarah Nichols, MEA administrator, at [email protected]. The MEA will give direction for further action.

So, will the UMS Board and chancellor turn their backs on us, or will they stop this and keep a plan that more reflects UMS’ thanks for all the work we’ve done over the years? Is this the best way to recognize our service to our fellow Mainers?

UMS has a good reputation as an institution of higher learning and research in Maine. Please don’t let this insurance debacle tarnish that reputation.


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