New York Daily News, Chris Sommerfeldt, September 14, 2023

Reps. Malliotakis, Torres introduce bipartisan bill blocking Mayor Adams’ Medicare Advantage switch for NYC retirees.

New York City retirees protest outside City Hall Friday, March 31, 2023 in Manhattan, New York in response to his signing a Medicare Advantage Plan contract for retired city employees.

A bipartisan legislative push is afoot on Capitol Hill to prohibit all U.S. employers from forcing their retired workers into Medicare Advantage coverage — a proposal that could spell trouble for Mayor Adams, who’s trying to mandate the privatized health insurance program for New York City’s 250,000 municipal retirees.

The anti-Advantage effort is expected to formally get underway Thursday, when Reps. Nicole Malliotakis and Ritchie Torres, both of whom represent parts of New York City, plan to co-introduce a bill that would amend U.S. social security law so that it’d become illegal for “public and private employers” to “involuntarily” shift Medicare-aged retirees into Advantage plans.

Under the legislation, a copy of which was exclusively shared with the Daily News ahead of its introduction, the only way an employer could legally force a senior into an Advantage plan is if it secures consent from the person to do so.

Malliotakis, a Republican who represents Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn, said the bill is directly aimed at blocking a long-running bid by Adams to switch the city’s municipal retirees into an Advantage plan on the auspice that it’d save the city money on health care costs.

“Mayor Eric Adams broke the city’s commitment to our civil servants,” Malliotakis said of the attempted Advantage switchover. “Our teachers, firefighters, police officers, sanitation workers, and other municipal workers did not deserve this bait and switch. Our bipartisan legislation rectifies this injustice by giving them a choice in their earned healthcare benefit.”

Torres, a Democrat who represents a section of the Bronx, did not call out Adams by name like Malliotakis.

But he did say he’s sponsoring the bill after hearing from retired city workers who oppose the Advantage switch over fears the privatized plan would provide inferior coverage compared to traditional Medicare.

“Medicare is how millions of seniors and retirees are able to go to the doctor, get the care they need, and live decent, dignified, and healthy lives,” he said. “We must do everything we can to prevent and defend Medicare from being privatized, including preserving the rights of seniors to access the coverage of their choosing. No employer should be able to involuntarily kick retirees off the plan they chose and earned in favor of a private plan they don’t want.”

Spokespeople for Adams did not immediately return requests for comment Thursday morning.

Unlike traditional Medicare — which has typically consisted of the universal federal program and a city-subsidized Medigap supplement for municipal workers— Advantage plans are administered by private health insurance providers.

A grassroots group composed of thousands of retired city workers say the Advantage plan favored by Adams would dilute their benefits. One of their top concerns has been findings in federal studies that Advantage, due to its privatized structure, can deny plan holders “medically necessary care.”

The grassroots group, the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees, has successfully sued the Adams administration multiple times to block it from implementing its Advantage plan, with judges finding it violates local laws requiring the city to provide its public sector retirees with premium-free heath care for life.

Most recently, the administration was blocked by a Manhattan Supreme Court judge from having its Advantage plan take effect Sept. 1; the administration is appealing that ruling.

The current structure of Adams’ plan would make Advantage the only health care option available for retired city workers, eliminating even the possibility for them to enroll in traditional Medicare, unless they want to do so on their own on the open market.

An aide to Torres acknowledged that the bill the congressman and Malliotakis are introducing would not be retroactive. That means the bill would not derail Adams’ Advantage plan should he manage to implement it before their legislation potentially passes Congress and is signed into law on the federal level.

For starters, the bill only has Malliotakis and Torres listed as sponsors. But the Torres aide said the bipartisan nature of the measure out the gate is promising.

“We’re encouraged it’s starting with bipartisan support, and hope to see more members sign on, particularly from [New York City],” the aide told The News.

Adams and the Municipal Labor Committee, which operates as an umbrella group for most of the city’s public sector unions, back Advantage because they say it will generate as much as $600 million in annual health care savings — a sizable sum at a time the city’s projecting massive budget deficits in coming years.

Adams and labor brass also say the customized Advantage plan they’re advancing, which would be administered by health insurance giant Aetna, should provide retirees with coverage that is up to par with traditional Medicare.

The Advantage advocacy from Adams and the MLC has drawn widespread pushback.

The Torres-Malliotakis bill is the second piece of legislation aimed at preventing Adams from going down the Advantage path.

The first legislative effort is a bill introduced in the City Council. That bill, introduced by socialist Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron, would enshrine into law that the city government must provide its retirees with at least one premium-free traditional Medicare plan.

Barron’s bill has also earned bipartisan support. As of Thursday, 18 of the Council’s 51 members are listed as co-sponsors of the measure, Council records show.

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