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RISE Delaware stands by state retiree healthcare recommendations but says fight is not over

RISE Delaware President Elisa Diller provides public comment on the Retiree Healthcare Benefits Subcommittee's final recommendations on Feb. 19, 2024, in the House Chamber at Legislative Hall.
Sarah Petrowich
Delaware Public Media
RISE Delaware President Elisa Diller provides public comment on the Retiree Healthcare Benefits Subcommittee's final recommendations on Feb. 19, 2024, in the House Chamber at Legislative Hall.

RISE Delaware formed in 2022 to oppose Delaware’s decision to switch to a Medicare Advantage Plan for state retiree health care, and their lawsuit against the state yielded a temporary block on transitioning to the new plan.

Medicare Advantage was initially adopted under the impression it would help with the state's ballooning healthcare liability cost for retirees, but retirees argued the new coverage did not meet the standards they were initially promised.

The State Employee Benefits Committee (SEBC) has since rescinded its decision to switch to Medicare Advantage and now looks to adopt a plan identical to the Medicfill Supplemental Plan that state retirees are currently on.

In addition, the Retiree Healthcare Benefits Advisory Subcommittee was created to reevaluate state pensioners health insurance moving forward. They released a finalized list of recommendations in January, which included not moving forward with Medicare Advantage in the future.

"I think we overall feel very positive about the process. I think one of the things that we've seen throughout this whole raising of this issue is that [the state has] know for years that the healthcare system was being underfunded. This just sort of brought all of that information, I think, out to the public in a way where finally people are taking it seriously," says RISE President Elisa Diller.

State Rep. Paul Baumbach (D-Newark) introduced legislation in January to repeal the option of providing health care under a Medicare Advantage Plan entirely, but has since added an amendment that would allow the switch for those hired on or after Jan. 1, 2025.

Former State Sen. Karen Peterson and Legal Liaison for RISE says passing this bill is crucial to RISE to ensure current retirees maintain the healthcare coverage they were promised, but hopes it won't be a problem for future retirees.

“By that time, I mean, some of us think that Medicare Advantage will either be extinct or it will have morphed into something better or everybody in the country will be on Medicare Advantage – one of those," Peterson says.

Baumbach introduced an additional bill that would revise SEBC membership and require the committee to inform retirees about any planned changes to their coverage.

RISE’s Legal Liaison Mary Graham explains retirees sued based on grounds that the state didn’t follow proper administrative procedures when enacting Medicare Advantage, and this legislation would help correct that in the future.

“I do think no matter what, that this requiring the SEBC or the Secretary of Human Resources to communicate with retirees if they want to go messing around with the benefits – they’ve got to communicate," Graham says.

Graham says she’s also concerned with the high cost of healthcare as a whole in Delaware and plans to continue looking into the root of underlying costs across the state.

RISE made it clear there work isn't over, and they will continue to observe the state's decisions around retiree's healthcare.

"Everyday I get notices of all the new legislation to see if anything is sneaking through. We monitor the registrar regulations to see if they're trying to run anything through the administrative procedures act without us knowing about it. We monitor the RHBAS meetings, we monitor the SEBC meetings. So, we still have a full-time job going forward, even after we've won, because, basically, we can't trust these people," Peterson says.

"I don't think we're going to be able to go away. I think what we've seen is that these changes can happen and you have to be aware of them," Diller adds.

Baumbach's two pieces of legislation currently await hearings in the House Administration Committee, and he is currently working on legislation to raise the state's pre-funding contribution to the Other Post-Employment Benefits liability, which pays for retiree healthcare costs.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.
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