In the last week of 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a new regulation, effective immediately, allowing employers to discriminate against retirees 65 and older by reducing or eliminating healthcare benefits.
The change negates a previous court decision that required all retirees to be offered equal retirement healthcare benefits whatever their age. Now, the EEOC chairwoman, Naomi C. Earp, says the new ruling is necessary,
“…to protect employer-provided retiree health benefits which are increasingly less available and less generous. Millions of retirees rely on their former employer to provide health benefits, and this rule will help employers continue to voluntarily provide and maintain these critically important benefits in accordance with the law.”
- - Associated Press, 27 December 2007
The preamble to the new regulation states (full text here),
“The final rule is not intended to encourage employers to eliminate any retiree health benefits they may currently provide.”
And if you believe either of those statement, well…
No law requires employers to provide health benefits to employees or retirees, and more companies drop coverage every year leaving people to fend for themselves in a health insurance market that is already unaffordable for at least 47 million Americans.
But because the price of healthcare benefits is breaking the backs of some employers too and because people become eligible for Medicare at age 65, there would appear to be some logic to the new regulation. However, when examined closely, that logic disappears for two reasons:
- It is in direct conflict with the federal government’s own laws protecting against discrimination based on age. When that legislation is chipped away at once, it becomes precedent and easier to repeat with other kinds of legislation in the future.
- It will leave more families without coverage. A 65-year-old retiree is covered by Medicare, but not his or her younger spouse or children, who are covered with employer-provided insurance.
The first reason is a civil rights disaster and the second, a human calamity that will add even more to the already uninsured millions.
Relying on employers for health coverage was a mistake from the beginning, and a single-payer/universal coverage system, as all other western nations use, would remove that inappropriate burden. Healthcare has emerged as a top domestic issue in the current presidential campaign and it appears that if a Democrat is elected, the country will move toward universal coverage of some sort.
But in the intervening years while the details are hashed out in Congress and before it is implemented, additional millions will be without coverage due to the EEOC ruling. Some, who otherwise would not, will die.
Plus, that a long-established anti-discrimination right can be so easily removed - by an agency ruling, not through legislation or a court ruling that can be publicly monitored - is both frightening and wrong. What's next - surveillance of our email and phone calls? Oh. I forgot. The government already does that.
AARP is asking the Supreme Court to review the EEOC ruling.
“This policy is a civil rights and economic fiasco,” said David Certner, AARP’s legislative policy director. “It is a wrong-headed move to legalize discrimination, allowing employers to back off their health-care commitments based on nothing more than age.”
- - Chicago Sun-Times, 28 December 2007
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz tells of a group who appears to be much better at intelligence gathering than our government in The FBI Has Nothing on St. Labre.]