Kowalko: A thank-you from RISE Delaware co-founder


John Kowalko is a co-founder of Retirees Investing in Social Equity Delaware and a former Delaware state representative.

As far back as mid-August 2022, when New Castle County Councilwoman Lisa Diller and I decided to found Retirees Investing in Social Equity Delaware, we realized that it would take a massive, organized effort on everyone’s part to stop the state of Delaware from imposing its Medicare Advantage plan on its current and future retirees. Joined by Connie Merlet, we decided to formally create and incorporate the entity, known as RISE Delaware.

We agreed that retirees must organize and force a change in the Carney administration’s plan to privatize Medicare. The state plan being proposed at that time would impede the health care access for over 28,000 state pensioners, including state of Delaware retirees and retired Delaware teachers, as well as college and university faculty, covered through the state’s health benefits (including police, firefighters and other first responders). Please see my Daily State News guest post of Aug. 18, 2022, for more details.

RISE Delaware organized its first rally Oct. 4, 2022, at the Louis L. Redding City/County Building in Wilmington, and despite a driving rainstorm, over 50 people showed up to protest the proposal to take away their promised benefits. We scheduled another rally Oct. 12, 2022, at Dover’s Legislative Hall, and over 150 people attended to support and vocalize their opposition to the Medicare privatization plan that the administration was threatening them with. RISE hosted numerous other rallies and engagement sessions with legislators. On June 13, 2023, we held a rally in Dover at Legislative Hall with well over 150 people in attendance. The Daily State News did an excellent job covering these rallies, and an important point was raised. As a RISE co-founder and rally organizer, I was obligated to remind those in attendance not to rely on ongoing litigation for their benefits to be honored, instead insisting that retirees reach out to their elected officials to take legislative action: “The battle is not going to be won solely by the courts. It’s going to be by laws changing towards taking action. So, as much as we need to fight in the courts to preserve, at least temporarily, our rights, that is not where the war is going to be won.”

During 2023, RISE Delaware held several other rallies against Medicare Advantage throughout the state. The rallies and social media efforts have helped the organization develop a network of retirees who have generously supported the legal efforts of RISE.

Despite the success of the lawsuit granting our organization a temporary stay of the Medicare Advantage mandate, we at RISE had always been aware that a permanent solution to stopping this privatization effort would have to come via legislators passing laws that would guarantee fairness and health care access for all current retirees and spouses, and for future retirees.

Now, I’d like to recognize and thank a special legislator, Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, who, as the co-vice chair of the Retiree Healthcare Benefits Advisory Subcommittee, also realized that a permanent solution would have to be made in law. Rep. Baumbach took legislation that Rep. William Carson, D-Smyrna, and I had worked on together and crafted it into a more formidable and doable group of bills that would benefit all retirees, current and future. These bills are House bills 281 and 282. I cannot overestimate the debt of gratitude all of us retirees owe to Rep. Baumbach, but be assured that now is the time for all RISE members, activists and supporters to email, hard mail and call their representatives and senators, and tell them to support and vote for these two very important pieces of legislation.

A special heartfelt thank-you to Rep. Baumbach from all retirees and RISE members for HB 281 and HB 282. Just look at all those sponsors he has gotten onboard, and more have signed on.

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

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