Obamacare Fallout: Memphis Cops Hit with 'Blue Flu'
By Chuck Holton, CBN News Reporter, July 17, 2014
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Countless police cars are sitting idle in Memphis, one of the highest crime cities in the nation, after hundreds of officers called in with the so-called "Blue Flu."
It's a type of protest in which cops call in sick to protest a city policy.
The move is the latest unintended consequence of the Affordable Care Act that went into effect this year.
The strike, which also includes firefighters, comes after a recent decision by the Memphis City Council to cut health care benefits to city employees and retirees. That decision will deliver a devastating blow to retired police and firefighters.
The change will raise premiums by 20 percent for existing employees and drop some insured spouses. But the real pain will be felt by retirees, who are being dropped altogether.
"Now you're putting people in the situation where they've got to choose whether to eat and get their medicine versus their insurance," Thomas Malone, president of the Memphis Firefighters Association, told CBN News.
"By saying that they had to pay 100 percent of their premium, then their part for a family would go from about $320-$325 a month to about $1,600-$1,800 per month," he explained.
"The president said, 'If you have affordable health care, you can keep it.' We never even thought we'd be impacted," Malone said. "But now it appears that they're trying to force into the exchange and into the supplement based on the ACA."
Police and firefighters are also angry that the city's new health care policy wasn't completely written before it was voted on and passed, reminding Malone of the Affordable Care Act itself - a more than 2,000-page law that most in Congress never read before voting for it.
"There you go. You pass something and nobody read it. That's what we got here," Malone charged.
Beale Street in downtown Memphis is the hotspot for nightlife on a weekend. Typically on a weekend night there would be 70 or 80 police officers canvassing this area.
This time, however, it's at least a third less than that, and that's because many of the officers in Memphis are calling in sick to protest the changes to their health care policy.
The city has had to bring in sheriff's deputies to make up the difference.
Meanwhile, the police union is considering litigation. Clyde Keenan represents the city's retired police officers.
"We're going to be asking for an injunction in court to prohibit the city from going forward with this plan at all," Keenan told CBN News.
"The retirees that we've got, particularly those in their 70s and 80s, this would be a catastrophic hit. We literally would have people dying without health care. Doctors are not going to see these people free of charge," he said.
This appears to be a part of a larger trend. Keenan claims the city administration met with officials in Washington before unveiling their plan.
"Our administration met with the people in Washington and apparently got the idea to force our people on to the Affordable Care Act. But most of our people are not eligible for affordable care," Keenan said.
City employees across America have been routinely excluded from Social Security, instead opting to fund their own pensions and insurance.
But if these kinds of changes take hold, many more retired public servants could find themselves looking at a very difficult road ahead.