Guest Commentary: State retirees want the truth regarding Medicare


John Kowalko retired in 2022 after representing Newark’s 25th District for 16 years in the Delaware House of Representatives.

The ongoing attempts by this governor and the State Employee Benefits Committee to privatize state pensioners’ Medicare plans has been marked by glaring and shameful consistency. Lies, misinformation and secret backroom deals remain the chosen course for this administration.

The unapologetic attitude of those committee members who have chosen to deliberately abuse the rights of state retirees marks a significant abuse of government authority and must be discussed. Choosing to ignore the obligations and promises made to those pensioners, who have paid their way for medical benefits, is stunning in its callousness and displays an utter lack of respect for all of the hardworking state employees and their families.

In light of the continued onslaught against the retirees, it is past time to just ignore this constant drumbeat of falsehoods. The purveyors of these untruths have been confronted in public time and again with the facts and have obstinately refused to acknowledge or retract their lies. It is time to identify these individuals to the public and the 39,000 state pensioners and spouses whose health and economic well-being are being threatened by them.

Human Resources Secretary Claire DeMatteis, Finance Secretary Rick Geisenberger and Office of Management and Budget director Cerron Cade are front and center in promulgating a series of lies, mistruths and deliberately misleading statistics in their attempt to privatize state pensioners’ Medicare plans. DeMatteis and Cade are members of the State Employee Benefits Committee, and in these role, they have continued to promote this climate of dishonesty and despite being confronted with facts that refute their misinformation. There are many examples that are a matter of public record, and I will iterate some of the more obvious and glaring examples.

They have publicly stated, and continue to allege, that most/many states offer and pay for Medicare Advantage plans as the only option for their pensioners. The fact is that only 13 states, (22%) offer only the option of Medicare Advantage plans. That is neither more or most or even close. In fact, 38% of states offer group members a choice between Medicare supplement or Medicare Advantage plans for some or all Medicare-eligible retirees. (See Willis Towers Watson consultant reports paid for by Delaware taxpayers.) It is disturbing that none of the three SBEC members has chosen to correct or acknowledge their deliberate misstatements of fact.

Another example of this group’s refusal to respond truthfully is their continued assertions that retirees will keep their Medicare benefits under Medicare Advantage plans. That is untrue. Medicare Advantage plans privatize Medicare benefits and feed the coffers of the private insurers with taxpayer and retiree monies. The previously cited three know this but refuse to acknowledge it.

They have also stated, publicly and repeatedly, that, under their proposed Medicare Advantage option, retirees would have the same access to the doctors of their choice, the facilities of their choice, their treatments, medications and necessary tests they now enjoy under their current Medicare supplement plan. This is another example of a blatant falsehood, and the truth lies in the fact that all Delaware pensioners forced into the previously proposed Highmark Medicare Advantage plan would have been subjected to over 2,000 preauthorized, required approvals that they are not exposed to under their current plan.

Another oft-repeated and false assertion by Secretary Geisenberger, Secretary DeMatteis and Director Cade is the claim that the state-funded Medicare supplement plans enjoyed by the pensioners is causing an acceleration in the state’s obligation to appropriately fund the state’s medical benefits obligation. The truth is that a recently submitted report of actual statistical information proves that state pensioners on Medicare supplement plans have used less money to fund their plan than allocated. State current employees and state retirees who are not yet qualified for Medicare have contributed to the dramatic shortfall and rapidly expanding deficit in Delaware’s medical benefits obligation.

There are other incontrovertible truths that have been presented to the State Employee Benefits Committee and its entire membership, and while publicly naming these individuals might seem unduly harsh, it pales by comparison with the harshness in this administration’s betrayal of state pensioners and their families. A retraction and apology to the retirees, by these individuals, may have negated the need to publicly call them out, but they have refused to meet a base standard of credibility.

I will personally await their response, if they so choose.

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