After 44 years of nurturing the popular Supplemental Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) for UFT retirees and their families, Director Irene Lospenuso is retiring.
SHIP, the union’s self-insured plan that pays benefits from premiums, reimburses retirees for many common out-of-pocket medical expenses. Lospenuso has seen SHIP grow from an initial enrollment of 5,000 in 1977 to 82,000 today. She describes her years as SHIP’s guiding force as “a labor of love,” noting with pride that while the benefits improved year after year, the premiums only increased twice in 44 years.
Lospenuso began as a temporary employee responsible for processing enrollment applications. She went on to process claims and became the director in 1993. She has traveled the country keeping retirees up to date on improvements to SHIP and leading seminars on how to keep accurate medical records.
Colleagues said Lospenuso kept program staff dry, unwrinkled and energized because she kept a blow dryer, an iron and a steady supply of candy and pretzels in the office and gladly shared them. She was their go-to person and even kept a toolkit for small repairs.
Lospenuso never stopped advocating for new benefits and for improving old ones. Dental stipends and payments for home health aids, ambulance service and hearing aids improved even as premiums stayed the same, and those benefits continue to top the claims list. Lospenuso says she still considers SHIP the “best bargain in town.”
RTC Chapter Leader Tom Murphy described Lospenuso’s work at SHIP as “a remarkable achievement.”
“Her lasting gift was to preside over a transformative move to the digital age,” he said. “Her legacy is a high-quality, super-efficient service helping retirees from the newest to all those over 100. We all wish her happy years ahead.”