General Motors retiree: ‘This is a knife stab in the back’
After years of getting generous coverage, retirees from salaried jobs at
General Motors Corp. reacted angrily today to the announcement that GM
was ending their health benefits.
“I’m disappointed in the lifetime promise GM made to us,” said John
Fleming, 67, of Rochester Hills, a retired information system auditor.
“We’ve been wiped off the books completely.”
Fleming was among the shell-shocked GM retirees wondering about what
they’d do next for health care, following the surprise announcement that
is part of GM’s latest cost-cutting plan.
Effective Jan. 1, GM will end health benefits for 97,400 salaried
retirees, their spouses and dependents. Retirees will receive an extra
$300 a month in their pension checks that could be used to buy health care.
Salaried Chrysler LLC and Ford Motor Corp. retirees had to make similar
choices in the past two years, after receiving years of coverage for
medical, dental, vision, prescription drug and some rehabilitation
services with modest co-pays.
Although half of American employers still offer health benefits to
retirees, the trend is to drop retirement health plans for newer workers
or freeze coverage for current retirees to save money, according to the
Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health research organization.
Now GM retirees must also navigate the confusing world of Medicare — a
health insurance plan some find so bewildering that many settle for
costlier plans without doing the research to find cheaper, more
GM has hired ExtendHealth, a San Francisco benefits management company,
to help retirees find new health coverage, said GM spokeswoman Michelle
ExtendHealth last year helped 40,000 Ford salaried retirees make a
similar transition. GM will send information packages to those affected
in September and will set up a call-in telephone service prior to Oct.
15, the first day of enrollment for Medicare.
The package will be followed by other mailings and seminars to guide
retirees through their Medicare options. “We want to make this
transition as easy as possible for everyone,” Bunker said.
GM paid $3.3 billion last year for health care for its 442,400 retirees,
a figure that includes hourly workers not affected by the benefit
changes announced Tuesday, Bunker said. Hourly retirees’ health care
moves off GM’s books to UAW oversight in 2010.
With a new 2008 Chevrolet HHR in their driveway, Aldona and John Tessmar
of Canton were furious with the news.
“We gave them the best years of our lives, and we’re devastated,” said
Aldona Tessmar, 74, who was a GM accounting staffer for 27 years.
“They want us to retire and then drop dead,” said her husband, John
Tessmar, 72, a former security supervisor who worked 28 years for GM.
The Tessmars worry about what coverage they will be able to find, given
their health problems. He just finished cancer treatment. They both have
macular degeneration, a potentially blinding but common eye problem in
elderly people. He also has an ulcer.
“The problem is, the people who are over 65 have medical problems,” John
Tessmar said. “A lot of insurance companies don’t want to take us on
because we’re going to cost them some money.”
He said he wants to kick himself for buying the GM car.
“All the current employees, retirees and their families are suffering
for the wrong decisions made for many years by the top executives,” he said.
The couple still haven’t adjusted to higher co-pays they began to pay in
2005 and pension benefits frozen for 17 years, John Tessmar said.
“The bottom line for these people is the dollar,” he said. “I wonder if
some of their grandparents are being affected just like us. This is a
knife stab in the back.”