The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Retiree health benefits:
An endangered species

Jan 10, 2005

Retirees find they are losing benefits they thought had been promised to them for the rest of their lives. Eight% of large private employers completely eliminated retiree health benefits last year and another eleven% plan to do so this year, according to a study just released by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

By the end of 2004, only 36% of companies with over 200 workers provided retiree health care. Just 16 years ago, 66% of such companies did so; in other words, almost double today's number. That's an enormous drop in so short a time.

As for retirees who kept their medical coverage – they've done so only at a price. Companies raised premiums for retirees over 25% in just this past year alone. Most companies also raised co-pays on health care services or prescription drugs to active and retired workers.

Some of these cuts have been made in contract negotiations with unions, but most have been made unilaterally by companies, including in places with a contract still in existence. And the courts have said the companies have the "right" to make changes in retiree benefits because of some obscure language hidden deep in a part of the contract no one sees.

It has never been contracts or language that granted workers "rights." It was a readiness to fight that won health care benefits in the first place.

There's more than enough money to provide retiree health benefits. The companies included in this latest survey are some of the largest, most profitable companies around. But the money that should be used for retiree health benefits, like many workers' pension funds, has gone to buying up other companies in this country and abroad, investing in real estate, or gambling on other forms of speculation.

There are no guarantees in capitalist society, no promises the bosses won't violate. The only assurance is to refuse to accept cuts the bosses try to impose.