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Changing employee health care puts senior citizens in danger

According to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, discrimination against senior citizens is legal.

In late March, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a lower court decision in the case of AARP v. EEOC, which ruled that the EEOC can allow employers to reduce or eliminate health care benefits when retirees become eligible for Medicare without facing age discrimination charges.

According to Paul Miller, executive director of ProtectSeniors.Org, a retiree health care advocacy group, "The government has opened the door to allow companies across America to dump the health care benefits of retirees over 65 with no repercussions." The group represents more than 45,000 retirees in over 20 industries and companies.

Signs are pointing to a financial crisis for retirees. Medicare does not sufficiently cover seniors' health care needs. At age 65, Medicare pays about 80 percent of medical bills, usually excluding pharmaceuticals. Making up the remaining 20 percent and pharmaceutical costs can be extremely hard.

These policies are expensive and sometimes impossible to get depending upon pre-existing medical conditions. Employers who have not dumped their retiree medical benefits are raising premiums for those who want to maintain coverage. Adding hundreds of dollars per month to the bills of someone on a fixed income can be devastating.

To make matters worse, Medicare's viability as a safety net is questionable. On March 25, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Social Security and Medicare trustees announced that the trust will have a negative cash flow in 2008. Assets are expected to fall below annual spending by 2013; the fund will be exhausted by 2019.

Retiree leaders point to Congressional legislation that would provide retirees security and assurance. The Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act (H.R. 1322) would prohibit employers from making post-retirement health benefit cancellations or reductions. Any health plan changes would need to be made before retirement.

Meanwhile, the corporate lobby is fighting to keep the EEOC ruling in place.

As an issue with a direct impact on the quality of life for seniors, it is vital to enact legislation that restores fairness. Retirees concerned about protecting their health benefits should let Congress members know how important this issue is.

While legal, it is reprehensible to sanction discrimination against seniors.

Eileen Lawrence

Secretary-Treasurer of ProtectSeniors.Org

Douglaston

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