NEW YORK NURSE: May 2008
by Mark Genovese
Nurses dedicate their careers to caring for others in times of need. But who cares for nurses when they are in need – such as when they’re ready for retirement but too young to qualify for Medicare?
Over the past few years, NYSNA has achieved health coverage for retirees in many of its contracts.
Such incentives extend the ability of nurses as young as age 55 to receive healthcare benefits until they become eligible for Medicare at age 65. Each bargaining unit’s contract is different, so each retirement health provision is different as well. Thus far, there are three types of plans:
For many nurses, the availability of healthcare coverage is a key factor in deciding to accept early retirement.
“Nurses may be ready to retire, but didn’t think they’d be able to because they wouldn’t have health insurance,” said Lorraine Seidel, director of NYSNA’s Economic & General Welfare program. “They didn’t think it was realistic until they learned their NYSNA contract made it affordable.”
It would be ideal to afford retirement health coverage for all members through the NYSNA Benefits Fund. Fund trustees developed a retiree health plan in 2004, but individual bargaining units expressed little interest in it.
But NYSNA is aggressively pursuing coverage one contract at a time. So far, NYSNA negotiating teams have won retirement health benefits at 47 facilities. Some examples:
Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center:
RNs who qualify for health coverage under the NYSNA Benefits Fund and have 20 years of service at age 62 receive $2,500 per year in reimbursement for insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses until age 65. RNs with seven years’ service as of age 65 receive $750 per year until death.
Maimonides Medical Center:
RNs who retire at age 60 with 20 years of service are eligible to receive $2,500 per year to purchase health insurance coverage until they are Medicare-eligible. The money will be paid on the anniversary of the RNs retirement date.
Jewish Home and Hospital:
NYSNA members at age 62 with 20 years of service are eligible for single coverage in the medical center’s exclusive provider organization at no cost until they are Medicare-eligible.
New York Presbyterian Hospital:
RNs who retire with 20 years of service at age 60 can purchase coverage under its non-union benefit plan at the per capita rate charged by the carrier. The hospital provides retirees an annual cash supplement of $4,000.
Upon retirement from the North Shore System, RNs at age 60 with 20 years of service receive a lump sum payment per year to offset medical expenses until they are Medicaid/Medicare-eligible or age 65, whichever comes first.
The 9,900 NYSNA members who work in the public sector have successfully kept their retiree health benefits, despite management efforts over the years to reduce them.
Retiree health has been a priority at the bargaining table for members and will continue to be. Nurses have expressed their desire for retirement health coverage at local bargaining unit meetings and in contract preparation surveys.
“Our recent Congress and Delegate Assembly meetings clearly deemed retirement healthcare coverage the top priority for NYSNA members,” said Delegate Assembly President Barbara Crane.
“Working as a nurse today is physically demanding, almost punishing, work,” Crane added.
“It’s difficult, and sometimes impossible, for nurses to work full-time until they reach retirement age. We have worked our entire professional careers taking care of the public we serve. But when we retire we are denied coverage because most nurses don’t have retirement health benefits. Retirement health coverage is something all nurses have earned and deserve.”