September 8, 2023: Happy September! Our weekly Mass Retirees news updates are back. After a short Labor Day break, we’re gearing up for what will be a busy – and we hope to be a productive fall sprint before the holiday season arrives in late November.
As you know, over the next four months we will host 6 Area Meetings and 1 virtual Tele-Town Hall Meeting. Kicking off our 2023-24 meeting schedule is our Annual Meeting on Friday, September 22nd at 11:00 AM EST. Please note that the location of the Annual Meeting has changed. Due to the closure of Lantana and Lombardo’s in Randolph, we are forced to relocate to the enVision Hotel and Conference Center in Mansfield. Conveniently located just off I-95, the enVision Hotel is easy to find and has plenty of parking.
However, if you are unable to get to Mansfield on the 22nd, we are holding 5 other meetings across Massachusetts through early December. The first 6 months of 2024 will feature additional meetings both here in MA, as well as some new locations in Florida. As I said in our meeting save-the-date announcement in August, our goal is to hold our meetings in areas most populated by our members. Meetings in and around the greater Boston area, as well as on Cape Cod and the North Shore, take place each spring.
We will also continue to hold our virtual Tele-Town Hall Meetings, starting with the meeting on Friday, September 29 at 1:00 PM EST. Please look to future messages, as well as upcoming editions of The Voice for future meeting announcements.
In addition to our direct engagement with members, we are also anticipating a busy fall session in the State House, as well as on Capitol Hill. We are eagerly anticipating executive action by the Joint Committee on Public Service, where most of our legislative proposals are now under review. The House and Senate are also likely to finalize agreement on a tax reform package, which remains in conference committee.
A top priority continues to be improving the COLA base for members of the State and Teachers’ Retirement Systems. As you know, the COLA base for the 102 local retirement systems is determined locally. However, the COLA base for members of the State and Teachers’ Retirement Systems is determined by the legislature and governor within state law. We are now working with the Healey Administration and legislative leaders to formulate a workable solution to improve this critical benefit – with an eye toward implementation for FY25 (7/1/2024).
We also have a lot of activity on the retiree health insurance front, where one critical issue continues to be the implementation of a Medicare Buy-In plan by the state’s Group Insurance Commission. Right now, some 10,000 GIC enrolled retirees aged 65 or older are not Medicare eligible. As we have reported in the past, Medicare is a superior and often far more affordable option for retirees than the non-Medicare health plans that cater primarily to younger active employees and their families. A Medicare Buy-In plan would save both retirees and the state/local governments millions of dollars per year. We know this after several dozen local communities have implemented the program at the municipal level.
While the GIC has expressed an interest in Medicare Buy-In, there are logistical and system issues that present hurdles in the way of moving forward as quickly as we would like. Even with the 2022-2023 procurement now complete, systematic complications remain. That said, working with the GIC to chart a workable path forward to implement a Buy-In plan is a top priority. One suggestion that has made is to begin the process with a voluntary signup for those retirees who are eager to join Medicare A & B. We will have more to say on this topic in the coming months as new information is made available.
Also on the healthcare front is a special informational and educational meeting being hosted in early October by Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA, which will focus on our local Public Employee Committees (PEC). This first of its kind meeting, in which Mass Retirees is an active participant, is geared toward the retiree and union representatives serving on local PEC and Insurance Advisory Committees. Under state law Mass Retirees appoints the local retiree representatives serving on PECs across the state.
In addition, Nancy McGovern and I are traveling to Washington, DC in early November to take part in the annual conference of the Public Sector Healthcare Roundtable. Representing public sector health plans from across the country, the Roundtable serves as an important policy resource.
While in Washington, we plan to venture to Capitol Hill to meet with those Republican and Democrat officials who are directly focused on Social Security policy – including the WEP and GPO. Even though we do not foresee legislation related to these issues or Social Security in general being acted upon this year, it is important for us to remain engaged.
Speaking of Social Security, this week Texas Congressman Jodey Arrington filed legislation to reform the WEP law. A Republican hailing from West Texas, Congressman Arrington is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee and has long been a supporter of WEP reform. His proposal largely resembles that previously filed by former Congressman Kevin Brady. Frank Valeri and I have had the opportunity to meet directly with Congressman Arrington in the past – most recently at our Capitol Hill press conference last December. He is a close friend and ally of the Texas Retired Teachers Association.
We have not yet had the chance to fully analyze this new bill, other than to note that is focused exclusively on WEP reform. Please look to next week’s update for an in-depth report on WEP and GPO.
Before closing I want to note our ongoing concern for those members who have been displaced by the recent natural disasters that have plagued Hawaii, Southern California, Florida, and the Carolinas. Similar to members harmed by last year’s hurricane that struck Florida’s Gulf Coast, we have members whose homes were lost to the fires on Maui and the floods recently caused in the sun belt by Hurricane Idalia.
If you have been impacted by these disasters, please let us know if we can be of any help? We are also interested in reporting firsthand accounts in the November edition of The Voice. If you have a story to share, please contact me directly.
With great appreciation,
Chief Executive Officer
Mass Retirees Association