FORT WORTH — City Council members gave administrators the go-ahead Friday to move the city’s 1,500 Medicare-eligible retirees out of a self-insured health plan and into Medicare Advantage in January.The move could save the city $2 million in claims costs next year and more than $5 million by 2023, the city staff estimates.But retirees are skeptical.Marsha Anderson, president of the Coalition of Retired Employees, said retirees fear the city could change the rules on “any given Tuesday,” a phrase that the City Council and staff often use to warn that changes in employee benefits must be sustainable so future councils don’t dump them.“From a taxpayer standpoint, I do understand their theory, but as a retiree, I’m a little impatient with ‘any given Tuesday,’” Anderson said Friday.Council members acknowledged the sensitivity of the issue during a budget workshop Friday, but reiterated what they said was the risk of doing nothing. The city has no legal obligation to pay for retiree healthcare, and future councils could ditch the coverage, they said.Also Friday, the council gave the OK to revise the city’s plan for setting aside money to pay for future retiree healthcare, capping the annual contribution at $14 million — much lower than contemplated in a multiyear schedule the council set down in 2010.Faced with numerous competing needs, the council in recent months has balked at parking large amounts of cash.“It’s important that the city fund the benefits that eligible workers expect in retirement,” Mayor Betsy Price said. “To do this, it’s got to be affordable for the citizens and future city councils.“I think city staff outlined a good proposal that will save money for both employees and the taxpayers. Not only does the proposal represent sound financial planning, but it’s the right thing to do.”Of the city’s 1,500 Medicare-eligible retirees, only 215 are already in Medicare Advantage plans, which the city offers as an option to its traditional plan. Medicare Advantage offers physicians visits, hospitalization and, most of the time, prescription drug benefits.Retirees who aren’t eligible include ones who haven’t yet reached Medicare age and ones who were hired before 1988, when the city didn’t pay into Medicare. The city will continue to carry noneligible retirees on its current traditional plan, Alanis said.The city plans to offer two Medicare Advantage plans — an HMO and PPO.The city subsidizes rates to all retirees hired before 2009, when the city shut the plan down. Anybody hired after that has access to the plan in retirement but no city subsidy.Under the 2013 PPO rates, a retiree and spouse pay $283.19 per month for Medicare Parts A, B, and D physician, hospitalization and drug coverage. That compares with $411.89 under the current plan.Out-of-pocket maximum is $2,000 per year, same as the current plan.Retirees will have to ensure they have doctors who participate in Medicare. Beyond that, “we think they’re going to be largely comparable,” Alanis said of the plans.
Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808 Twitter: @JScottNishimura