Diller and Kowalko: RISE Delaware reflects on first year fighting for benefits


Elisa Diller and John Kowalko Jr. are the co-founders of Retirees Investing in Social Equity Delaware.

It has been a year since Retirees Investing in Social Equity Delaware sued to stop the state of Delaware from taking away the state retirees’ Medicare benefit and dumping them into a Medicare Advantage plan. Yes, we heard at the state’s “information meetings” about how everything would be as good as before (only better) and that we would have a “special” Medicare Advantage plan. Well, it wasn’t so special when we looked at the contract and found that there were 2,030 prior authorizations for procedures and prescriptions; limited access to doctors and hospitals; and financial exposure to high copays, cost sharing and deductibles. This sneak attack by the Carney administration was stayed only by a ruling RISE obtained in Superior Court at great financial cost to retirees — hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees (with a significant debt still owed the attorneys).

Following our Superior Court victory, we took our fight to the Retiree Healthcare Benefits Advisory Subcommittee, a group created by the legislature to review retiree health care benefits. RHBAS actually listened to retirees and, under the able leadership of Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long and Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, recommended that the Medicare Advantage plan be taken “off the table” and that retirees should continue to receive the benefits they were promised during their years of service. As a result of the group’s recommendations, the Carney administration has abandoned its plan to take away our Medicare benefits, at least in the next contract cycle, which will take us into a new administration, led by a new governor. On Oct. 2, the State Employee Benefits Committee decided to solicit bids for a Medicare Supplement plan “identical” to our current Medicfill plan. This was a huge victory, but we know our work is not over.

While the Carney administration has taken Medicare Advantage “off the table” for now, they are continuing to fight retirees in the Delaware Supreme Court by appealing the Superior Court’s ruling in our favor. This move not only continues to erode our trust in the administration but adds further expense to retirees in legal fees. The state, on the other hand, has limitless funds to fight us. In fact, they get to use our own tax money against us. If the state wants to rebuild the trust of retirees (and show current employees that it can be trusted to keep their promises), the state should drop its Supreme Court appeal.

Many of us in this struggle have wondered why the Carney administration tried to throw retirees under the bus by taking away our Medicare benefit. We can only conclude that they thought we were an easy target. They thought we would not fight back. But they were wrong. What retirees know, and the Carney administration disregarded, is that retirees are willing to go to war to keep their health care benefits at a time when they need them the most. There’s a reason retirees carried “Hands Off My Medicare!” signs into Legislative Hall, and nearly 300 retirees attended the recent State Employee Benefits Committee meeting in person and virtually. Retirees know and trust their physicians to make health care decisions for them — not an insurance company making its profits by delaying and denying medical care.

While the past year has been stressful (and expensive) for retirees, it has also galvanized us. Many hundreds (or more) of retirees have stepped up:

  • They created and maintain our logo, our website and our Facebook page.
  • They contributed generously to our legal fund.
  • They attended rallies in Wilmington and Dover.
  • They spent thousands of hours doing research to refute the state’s propaganda.
  • They did pro bono legal work to keep our attorneys’ fees as low as possible.
  • They wrote thousands of emails and letters to RHBAS and SEBC members.
  • They visited and wrote emails and letters to legislators.
  • They attended hearings and testified in the legislature, RHBAS and SEBC meetings.
  • They visited senior centers to “spread the word” about the state’s actions.
  • They mailed thousands of postcards to retirees.
  • They met with leaders of state employee and retiree organizations, who stepped up to reach out to their members (and contribute toward fees).
  • They wrote Op-Ed pieces published in the state’s newspapers.
  • They did interviews with TV and radio stations and participated in podcasts.

This is not how we planned to spend our retirement, but we will do whatever it takes to keep the Medicare benefits we were promised. There’s an old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” We will not be fooled again. And, on Election Day, we will remember who stood with us and who did not. As one of our rally signs read, “WE’RE NOT DEAD YET — AND WE VOTE!”

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at civiltalk@iniusa.org.

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