Over 200 retired teachers had their healthcare questions and concerns addressed Tuesday by state experts at a CEA-Retired meeting in Southington. CEA-Retired President Jon-Paul Roden said, “Healthcare issues are always of concern to our CEA-Retired members. Holding conferences like this from time to time meets our members’ needs, and we are happy to provide that opportunity.”
Retired members attending the conference heard from individuals who administer their healthcare plan and provide their pension benefits, as well as from a woman whose office provides assistance with healthcare concerns for all Connecticut residents.
Connecticut’s Healthcare Advocate Provides Help for Consumers
Victoria Veltri, Connecticut’s healthcare advocate, told the retired teachers that her office assists consumers to make informed decisions when selecting a health plan and in resolving problems with their plans. The Office of the Healthcare Advocate (OHA) has assisted 16,000 consumers since 2002 and recovered $35 million.
“Your insurance contract is the law regarding your policy,” said Veltri. “You need to make sure you have a copy of your contract and read it so you know your rights and responsibilities.”
If you are affected by a denial of coverage, have a question about your policy, or need an explanation of benefits you can contact the OHA.
Veltri said that her office is “the only Connecticut government entity that provides real-time service. If you contact our office, you will get a call back the same day. We keep you up to date all the time, over the phone, or through email or fax – however is most comfortable for you to be in touch.”
You can contact the Office of the Healthcare Advocate by
- calling 866-466-4446,
- emailing email@example.com, or
- visiting www.CT.gov/oha. The website offers some helpful tips and forms.
In addition to providing direct assistance to Connecticut residents, the OHA has authority under state law to propose legislation, and advocate for or against legislation. Last year the office advocated on behalf of legislation that led to an agreement requiring the insurance commissioner to hold up to four public hearings a year on proposals to raise health insurance rates for individual or small group HMO plans by 15 percent or more.
Panel Provides Updates on Pension and GPO/WEP
During the second half of the meeting, CEA-Retired members heard from a panel of three pension and healthcare experts: Clare Barnett, retired teacher and chair of the Teachers’ Retirement Board; Darlene Perez, administrator of the Teachers’ Retirement Board; and Jamie Stirling of Stirling Benefits. Stirling Benefits administers the state’s supplemental insurance plan for retired teachers.
Barnett had good news for CEA-Retired members: The budget proposed by Governor Malloy and adopted by the legislature fully funds the teachers’ pension fund for both this fiscal year and next. “This is a huge commitment during a difficult economic time,” said Barnett.
CEA’s Program Development Specialist Robyn Kaplan-Cho, who moderated the panel, said that CEA members need to thank the governor and legislature for including the full pension and retiree healthcare appropriations in the budget.
Kaplan-Cho added that she wanted to acknowledge Darlene Perez for all of her hard work on behalf of Connecticut’s teachers. A retired teacher in the audience agreed that kudos are necessary, speaking highly of the assistance she received from a Teachers’ Retirement System employee who resolved an issue with her pension check on the Friday before a long weekend.
The outstanding work of Perez and her staff is especially impressive because the office is severely understaffed. Because of state budget constraints, the State Teachers’ Retirement System has only 22 employees, said Perez. The system must enroll new retirees over the summer, send checks out, and respond to numerous phone calls and emails from the retirees it serves.
Perez recommended that retirees contact her office by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, whenever possible. Responding to voice mail messages usually takes her staff at least two to three days.
She also recommended that retirees who need forms download them from the Teacher Retirement Board website: http://www.ct.gov/trb/site/default.asp.
Interactive software that would point out mistakes and omissions and allow retirees to submit forms directly would save time and money for the Teachers’ Retirement System, said Perez. Unfortunately her office doesn’t have this technology yet, but she’s hopeful that these updates will come, as Governor Malloy is supportive of IT initiatives in state government.
Many CEA-Retired members had questions about efforts to repeal the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision (GPO/WEP) that unfairly reduce or eliminate Social Security benefits pubic employees have earned.
Kaplan-Cho said she is cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a repeal. There is increasing support in Washington, D.C. for repealing GPO/WEP, but it’s a complicated issue and the economy remains challenging.
Most of Connecticut’s U.S. representatives and senators have supported repealing GPO/WEP, but Kaplan-Cho reminded retirees that it’s “very important to share your personal stories about how you’ve been impacted by GPO/WEP.” Those stories are what will make Congress eventually take action on this issue.
CEA-Retired will offer its next conference providing more essential information for retired teachers on May 22, 2012. If you’re not already a member of CEA-Retired you can enroll today by visiting CEA-Retired’s award-winning website or by contacting Cherie Young at CEA: 860-525-5641 or 800-842-4316.