Jim Carr By JIM CARR

PEF Retirees LogoWelcome to 2023, a new year which brings new challenges and new opportunities. Every year between September and December our retirees receive multiple mailings regarding changes and updates to our NYSHIP. This year we saw a significant increase in our health insurance premiums. 

Insurance premiums for any retiree member who retired from January 1983 to Dec. 31, 2011, are different from those who retired after Jan. 1, 2012. These Empire Plan rates starting in January 2023 are $121.69 for an individual plan and $525.30 for family. That’s an $11.12 increase for an individual and $47.86 increase for family coverage.  

For members who retired after Jan. 1, 2012, the rates for Empire Plan in 2022 were $147.42 for an individual plan and $568.64 for a family. The rates for Empire Plan starting in January 2023 are $162.26 for individual and $625.67 for family. 

Rates for HMOs are all different depending on your location in New York state. 

This is the premium payment before any sick leave allotment is figured in. NYS Retirees are guaranteed insurance coverage as a benefit of our state employment, but the rate is based on a premium charge the first of every year and the rates are determined from the cost of care the insurance providers pay. 

PEF cannot and does not negotiate on behalf of retirees; our benefits are administered and controlled by the Department of Civil Service. We are subject to changes in coverage that are included in union contacts. 

Retirees’ cost for health insurance is the same as that of an active enrollee. Currently, the state pays approximately 86% of the cost of individual coverage and 69% of the additional cost for family coverage in the NYS Empire Plan. If you are enrolled in an HMO, the state will pay 84 to 88% for individual coverage and 69 to 73% for family coverage, not to exceed the dollar amount it pays for the Empire Plan. You can use sick leave credits to reduce your cost. The longer you live in retirement your cost increases to insurance will outpace the value of your sick leave credit.  

The PEF Legislative office has submitted legislation that would prohibit public employers from diminishing health insurance benefits or the employer contributions for the health insurance of retirees. Unfortunately, elections have consequences and in the last election we lost some good friends and the sponsor of some of our retiree bills. We recently mailed a letter to all our active dues-paying members. This letter contained information about our efforts and the legislation we are advocating for. Below is an excerpt from our letter which explains the next step in our continued fight to protect and/or improve our secure retirement. 

Legislative news 

Since this is a new legislative session and many new legislators will be a part of that session, we do not yet have bill numbers or sponsor information available at this time. We will be sending information by mail when time permits, and especially by email to keep you informed of the changes. 

NYSHIP Corrections Legislation 

This legislation sets retiree health insurance premiums at the contribution level they made when they retired and requires excess contributions made since October 2011 to be returned to retirees or their estates. It also sets state employee health insurance premiums at their current rates and provides that any bill introduced to implement terms of a collective bargaining agreement shall be limited to provisions necessary for the implementation of the collective bargaining agreement. 

Chapter 491 of the Laws of 2011 amended Civil Service Law section 167(8). This amendment made significant changes to health insurance contribution rates and allegedly gave the president of the Civil Service Commission the power to extend the collectively negotiated contribution rates by regulation, with the consent of the Director of Budget, for state employees not covered by a collective bargaining agreement and retired state employees. We do not believe that this amendment gave the president of the Civil Service Commission this authority. We believe this power rests solely with the legislature. 

This legislation recognizes that only the legislature can set health insurance contribution rates for state employees not covered by collective bargaining agreement and retired state employees. It also provides for restitution to retired state employees who were impacted by the improper regulation issued by the president of the Civil Service Commission. The bill also properly clarifies current law, so the legislation enacted to implement collective bargaining agreements is limited to solely implementing those agreements. We will need everyone to support this effort as well as our continuing efforts to improve on the current COLA. 

New COLA Bill: Adjust Maximum Base of $18k for Calculating Annual COLA 

The landmark Permanent COLA law (Chapter 125 of the Laws of 2000) provides important inflation protections for public-sector retirees living on fixed incomes. However, this important protection is limited in its scope and has weakened over time.  

The current provisions of the Permanent COLA law provide annual inflation protection equal to 50% of the annual increase in inflation calculated on a maximum base retirement benefit of $18,000 with a minimum increase of 1% per year and a maximum cap of 3% per year. 

The flaw with the current Permanent COLA law is that the maximum base of $18,000 used for calculating the annual COLA has not increased in 22 years. This has caused erosion in the buying power of current retirees and does not protect the buying power of staff retiring now or in the future.  

This legislation would create an annual COLA or escalator for the base benefit amount of $18,000 equal to 50% of the annual rate of inflation (up to 1% and capped at 3%) to protect the buying power of those who are already retired and to reflect the higher base benefits of staff retiring more accurately now or in the future.  

We will be asking for your help in these efforts to call, email, and write to legislators asking support for our issues. There will also soon be a link created on the PEF website to email your legislator directly. It would be helpful in your discussions if you could ask legislators who support the bill to sign on as co-sponsors. 

Our letter also contained an ask to support COPE (Committee on Political Education). These are voluntary contributions which are used to educate members and support our friends in federal elections. Our social safety net is under attack from federal office holders with an agenda hostile to seniors: an agenda to cut Social Security and Medicare.  

“Democracy is the greatest form of government to my mind that man has ever conceived, but the weakness is that we have never touched it.”  

— “Love Your Enemies” Martin Luther King Jr. from The Radical King