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Testimony on changes to municipal retirees' health care plan


Testimony of UFT Welfare Fund Executive Director Geof Sorkin before the New York City Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor

Good afternoon, my name is Geof Sorkin and I am the Executive Director of the United Federation of Teachers Welfare Fund. My organization provides health benefits to approximately 400,000 lives. That group includes in-service employees represented by the UFT, retirees, and their dependents.

I would note that I started my career as a teacher and rose up the ranks to where I am now. I have been employed by the UFT Welfare Fund and involved with health benefits for almost a dozen years. In my current position, on a daily basis, my focus has always been about providing high quality health benefits that are easily accessible.

I feel it is important to share with this group that I am a third-generation UFT member. I have been covered by New York City health benefits my entire life. My mother, my stepfather, my father, and my mother-in-law are all retired UFT members on Medicare. Not only did I feel a strong professional obligation in my role with the creation of this new plan; it was very personal too.

I have been an active participant in the creation of the NYC Medicare Advantage Plus Plan process since its inception. The big question is why did we do this? I want to be very clear with my answer; the money that funds all City health benefits, the Stabilization Fund, is about to be depleted. It is about to dry up. If that happened, it would be catastrophic. Together, the leaders of the City and the Municipal Labor Committee created this new plan that preserves and enhances what we have now, and it is entitled to massive federal subsidies. Personally, years from now, it is my belief that history will show that what we did was the right course of action.

I firmly believe the new Medicare Advantage plan is a superior health insurance that smartly preserves a robust benefits package that will protect our retirees well into the future.

From my perspective, the only thing different with the new plan is that some scheduled procedures require prior-authorization. Our in-service members have had prior-authorization for many years now.

The NYC Medicare Advantage Plus Plan is a high-quality health plan. It provides nationwide access to any doctor or facility that accepts Medicare coverage. It provides a protective annual maximum out of pocket on most procedures. Its drug coverage is identical to what presently exists under the current plan. It gives worldwide emergency travel coverage. It provides new health and wellness programs including: meal delivery, fitness programs, transportation to medical visits, a 24/7 NurseLine, and perhaps most importantly a formalized tele-health program called LiveHealth. We have all seen the value of tele-medicine programs during the pandemic, which the Current GHI Senior Care plan does not offer.

I would like to close on a vignette; last week I visited my primary care physician for my annual physical. My physician is a prominent doctor associated with one of the biggest hospital networks in New York City. He knows that I am involved with health benefits and that I work for the Teacher’s Union. He asked me if I knew anything about this new Medicare Advantage Plan. He said he has several patients that are very concerned. I shared with him my involvement and he asked if he could fire off some questions.

He asked me about prior authorization during emergency situations; and, I told him it did not apply to emergencies.

He asked me about his patients that live down in Florida during the winter; and, I shared with him that this plan is built on top of Empire’s pre-existing national network.

He asked me about the network size; and, I shared with him that there is a national network of 650,000 doctors and that this new plan operated like a PPO and would grant access to any doctor or facility that accepts Medicare.

He asked me about how a plan this rich could save money; and, I told him that New York City would now be eligible for federal Medicare Part C subsidies.

He told me it sounded like a good plan. I told him we worked hard on it.

The following morning, I received an email from him with my physical results. He also thanked me for my insight and told me he had already advised several patients to take the new plan.

I thank you once again for convening today’s hearing. I hope I was able to convey to you today that the changes made to our municipal retirees’ healthcare plan are not only to their advantage, but also for the benefit of our City’s economy.

Related Topics: Health Benefits