May 3, 2004
In a big victory for the bosses, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) voted that employers can cut back on health care benefits for retirees when they become eligible for Medicare benefits at age 65. For the more than 12 million retirees who earned the benefit from their employer, the ruling could bring devastation to their pocketbooks and their health.
Medicare – even with the changes – does not begin to cover the cost of prescription drugs. It does not cover co-payments and deductibles. It does not cover catastrophic illnesses or much preventive care. An older person who lacks a health plan to cover such care must either pay for it or do without.
The ruling of the EEOC pretends that it ends age discrimination over which category in the work force gets retirement benefits, those under 65 or those over 65. If that's what the EEOC wanted, it would have made sure everyone gets equally good benefits – not equally bad!
In fact, what it does is allow employers to cut back on health care benefits, using what the EEOC decided as an excuse.
When Bush's Medicare bill was in front of Congress last year, the Senate had proposed a similar rule to cut back health care benefits for older people. The AARP, American Association of Retired People, gave support to Bush's bill on the basis that the Senate drop this provision.
Perhaps the AARP was fooled by this little charade. But so are we, if we believe Congress is the reason we gain benefits. The original Medicare benefits, as well as legislation against discrimination on the basis of color, sex or age, grew out of the social movements of the 1960s. Angry people mobilized in the streets forced politicians to re-think their prejudices and positions, then. It's what will do it again.