County Legislators take back retiree healthcare decision

(Photo via Kevin L. Smith of The Cortland Voice).

Cortland County Legislators voted 16-0 on Wednesday to take back its decision on switching to a Medicare Advantage plan for county retirees.

County retirees have now returned to their original Medicare health insurance.

Back in August of this year, county legislators voted 10-6 in favor of the measure to transition Medicare Advantage Plan through the Broome County Purchasing Alliance with United Health Care. County administrator Rob Corpora shortly entered into an agreement with United Health Care.

The move, however, received immediate backlash from county retirees. It led to a group of retirees filing a lawsuit against the county over the shift in the healthcare plan.

“Besides the actual vote and what (Wednesday’s) meeting was for, we’re not going into anything because there’s still pending litigation as of right now,” said Clerk of the Legislature Savannah Hempstead to The Cortland Voice on Thursday.

Edward Goehler, the attorney who represented nearly 200 retirees in the suit, said that the retirees were relieved that their health insurance “remains intact” for now.

“(The retirees) will not be hastily transferred to a for-profit advantage plan, but they are also under no illusion that the legislature rescinded their prior vote out of any genuine concern for the retirees,” Goehler said.

Goehler noted that the Medicare Advantage plan, which he called a “scheme,” was “flawed from beginning to end.”

“(This is) based in large part on the fictitious ‘$800,000.00 in annual savings’ trumpeted by the county,” Goehler said.

The predicted annual savings with the switch to the Medicare Advantage plan flowed between county legislators and county administrator Rob Corpora in the past few months.

According to an affidavit filed by Corpora in court, it was noted that a line of $616,008 would’ve been the “total first year savings with shared services” if the county was still attached to the Medicare Advantage plan. The number breaks down to $315,902 in total first-year savings, with a shared services matching fund of $300,106 (or 95%).

According to Goehler, the $315,902 piece of the total line equals to .2% of the county’s 2024 budget, which was adopted in November at $156 million.

Hempstead mentioned with the move back to the original Medicare plan, the county will work on the numbers to coincide with the 2024 budget.

“There’s a lot of back and forth we have to do because (the move) affects a little bit of everything,” she said. “It may reduce the cost to employees and the cost share for the county.”

Hempstead added that if a budget amendment is needed, it will take place this month.

Goehler noted that he is hopeful that county legislators “can prevail” legislative chairman Kevin Fitch “not to re-ignite this litigation.”

“But if that's what they want to do, the retirees are ready for them,” Goehler said. “The retirees are not going to be forced off of their Federal Medicare benefits that they paid for out of their own pocket. The county would do better to keep its promises to its former employees rather than trying to hurt them based on illusory claims of savings and insurance salesmen's slideshows.”

Corpora or Fitch could not be reached for comment. Further details on the county’s next move or Goehler and the retirees’ next move remain to be seen.