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Pima County retirees' complaints over insurance cuts lead to an AG investigation

Nobody has yet been able to convince any of the three Democratic members of the Pima County Board of Supervisors to change their votes, cast last April, which dropped more than 600 retirees from the county insurance plan.

Now those retirees hope that the state Attorney General's Office can make a difference.

In April, the three Democrats approved a plan to drop retirees younger than 65 from the insurance plan that was once an expected part of county retirement benefits for those retirees not yet old enough to be eligible for Medicare. (See "Broken Promise," Dec. 2, 2010.) Although those retirees were offered health coverage through the state system, the result was an increase in out-of-pocket costs of up to $600 per month.

The two Republicans on the Board of Supervisors voted against the plan.

According to Mike Humphrey and Linda Trozzi—members of the Pima County Retirees Association (www.pimacountyretirees.org), a group they helped form to advocate for the retirees who lost their health-care benefits—10 retirees, including them, have been interviewed under oath by an AG investigator. They were told the office is conducting a civil-rights investigation on the county's decision.

Those 10 retirees, shortly after being dropped from the county plan, filed complaints with the AG's Civil Rights Division, claiming age discrimination. Evidently, the complaints were enough to encourage the AG's office to start an investigation, although a representative from the Civil Rights Division would neither confirm nor deny to the Tucson Weekly whether an investigation is taking place.

"They've interviewed us as part of an investigation," Humphrey said. "We understand that they will be interviewing (County Administrator) Chuck Huckelberry the middle of this month, and we were told a decision could be made by April."

The Weekly called and e-mailed Huckelberry for comment, but did not hear back from him as of press time.

Humphrey worked for the county for 28 years and retired from the Health Department two years ago. Trozzi worked for 13 years in the county's Human Resources Department before retiring two years ago.

Beyond explaining the financial consequences of the county's cuts to the AG investigator, Trozzi said that she and other retirees shared research pointing out what they see as discrepancies in the information given to the supervisors to help them make a proper decision.

In a Jan. 28, 2010, memo to the county supervisors, the county administrator told the elected officials that the costs to retirees "is modest; approximately $112 per month." However, in an earlier memo, on Feb. 9, 2009, Huckelberry wrote: "Based on state and county health insurance premiums, it would appear that the average monthly savings to a county retiree retaining the county's insurance plans for medical and dental coverage saves the retiring employee over $3,000 per year ($250 per month)."

According to Humphrey, most of the retirees they've talked to have seen out-of-pocket premiums increase from just more than $100 a month to between $300 and $600 per month.

Trozzi said her husband was paying about $135 a month, and his costs increased to $443 a month. Humphrey said his per-month costs were $118 before the change, and now he pays more than $400 a month.

In another memo, on March 11, 2009, Huckelberry wrote that pre-Medicare retirees in the county plan are "high users" of the insurance.

Trozzi said that they asked the county for numbers regarding the highest-cost claimants—and they discovered that pre-Medicare retirees do not cost the county more because of claims. Among the top 30 claimants from 2009 and 2010, only four are retirees. Eleven of the top 30 claimants had cancer, including the top five, which includes only one retiree.

Humphrey said he doesn't know if the information they've gathered will make a difference to the AG investigator, but the fight, from his point of view, is necessary to force the county to keep a promise he said was always used as an incentive for young retirees. That promise was noted in a Feb. 9, 2009, memo from Huckelberry to the county's human resources director, reiterating the importance to tell employees "near or contemplating retirement ... that to continue to be in the county insurance medical and dental plan as a retiree, they must retire before June 30, 2009."

Humphrey pointed out that the country was beginning to discuss how to get those employees off of that insurance plan, while simultaneously encouraging employees to consider early retirement.

What's troubled Humphrey even more lately—as he's combed through county memos from the past 2 1/2 years—is a memo from July 6, 2010, the day the retirees' benefits officially ended. The memo involves providing health-care services to adult and juvenile-detention-center detainees once they are released from jail.

According to the memo, the county spends $14 million on mandated health services for these detainees, and because many have chronic health problems, the county wanted to improve their access to health care once they are out of jail through the Pima Community Access Program (PCAP). The cost, approved by the board, was $260,140.

"The same day they throw us off health care, they approve a program to ensure the continuity of care for ex-prisoners? How does that make sense?" Humphrey asked.

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