At least that's the case at the SUNY Research Foundation, which is raising health insurance premium co-payments -- in some cases quadrupling them -- for retirees starting next year. The sharpest hikes will fall on those with the least tenure, including some who are planning to leave at age 55.
"It's an extraordinary difference in premiums," said one Research Foundation employee, who plans to retire in 2012. Under the change, the employee, who didn't want her name used for fear of angering her bosses, said coverage for her and her spouse will probably rise from $209 per month to $748 -- for an annual increase of more than $6,000.
Amid these increases, a watchdog group is fielding complaints from New Yorkers who are retiring or about to retire from public and private employers and who are seeing their premiums rise -- despite a federal grant designed to contain such costs.
The higher premiums for the Research Foundation, which employs about 10,000 people at any given time and administers more than $1 billion in grants, were outlined in a recent bulletin warning that "our growing costs are not sustainable."
As a result, retirees after Jan.1, 2012, will see increases in the percentage of the health insurance premiums they must pay.
The increases will be tiered, with the lowest for those who've worked at the Research Foundation for 20 years or more. The rates will rise for those who've worked there for 15-19 years and they'll go up even higher for those working between 10 and 14 years. Research Foundation employees must work 10 years before they are able to retire.
The higher prices are causing some to put off retiring, perhaps until age 65 when Medicare kicks in.
"I know of at least two people who say they can't retire," added the Research Foundation employee, who plans to go to Florida.
There's been little outcry over the hikes, in part because SUNY Research Foundation employees are scattered across the state, working in research and support roles at campuses and on contracts with state organizations.
"It's not like we can come together and be unified and talk about this," said the employee, who like most, is not a union member.
The Research Foundation is private not-for-profit educational corporation that is legally distinct but closely related to SUNY. It exists largely to service the state university system. Its employees are not technically part of the state work force and state taxes don't go toward their benefits.
Research Foundation spokesman Peter Taubkin noted that most private employers don't provide retiree health benefits at all. The Research Foundation is not reducing benefits, but is instead increasing the co-pay requirement. Retirees now pay 10 percent for individual coverage and 25 percent for family plans.
The foundation was among scores of New York organizations that divided up the federal grant last summer aimed at keeping health premium costs down for those taking early retirement. The grant was part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, shepherded through Congress by President Barack Obama.
Dubbed the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program, it was designed to offset premiums for early retirees until 2014 when the full health care overhaul is scheduled to be phased in.
Unionized state employees appeared to benefit somewhat, with then-Civil Service Commissioner Nancy Groenwegen saying the state's $346 million share would go to keep premiums down for retirees.
The retiree program is scheduled to be phased out by 2014 when the Affordable Care Act, championed by President Barack Obama, is set to go into full effect.
Organizations including IBM, Syracuse University, Kodak and numerous municipalities and school systems accepted grant money to keep their retiree health insurance costs down.
But one advocate said her group is starting to get complaints from retirees who've been told their premiums will jump, even with the grants.
That's raised questions about the federal program's effectiveness or whether grant participants are using the money properly.
"We don't understand how it's possible to have a quadrupling,'' said Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president of health initiatives at Community Service Society of New York.
"We're very concerned that the funding is not being passed through to the employees," she said.
Participants, though, contend the individual grants aren't big enough to yield large savings next year.
The Research Foundation received $276,820 under the program. But that was only 4.5 percent of the total retiree health benefit cost of $6,131,294 in 2010. Private employers also say the federal grant was not significant in light of today's health insurance costs.
"Because the amount of reimbursement is expected to be small in comparison to Kodak's total health care costs and would be spread across all plan participants, the amount of savings for each covered plan participant is expected to be small," said Al Brakoniecki, a spokesman for Kodak, one of several organizations including the Research Foundation that retirees had complained to Benjamin about when they realized they weren't going to see much savings in their premiums.
One of the Research Foundation's bulletins noted that liability for their benefits program has gone from $213 million in 2008 to $332 million in 2010.
Reach Rick Karlin at 454-5758 or firstname.lastname@example.org.