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Walgreens Retirees lose Health Benefits! What to do?

By Terry Savage on October 10, 2018 | Insurance

Terry,
A number of years back, Prior to the Walgreen family quietly being ousted from their own company, you spoke at an employee financial meeting.
Well, my fine company of Walgreens ( which for the last 3-4 yrs has being run by majority shareholder Stefano Pessina and his Boots Alliance company, has slowly been whittling away retiree benefits that we were promised when we started with Walgreens. In my case, more than 30 yrs ago . Well we just received a letter this week stating that as of 3-31-19 all Healthcare benefits for future retirees and current retirees were being discontinued ( the company will stop paying their portion ) if you are under 64 yrs of age. Of course I was planning on retiring mid-year next year. I had already fulfilled the retiree requirements of being at least 55 yrs of age and had at least 25 yrs with the company . I know people who just retired a few weeks ago thinking that Walgreens was covering a portion of their Healthcare going forward. Is there any legal recourse to this or am I just out of luck from a company that doesn’t value their employees that have given them years of their life with the hope of getting something in the end.

Terry Says

. You are not the first Walgreens employee I have heard from. I wish I could contact everyone and explain.
As was determined by law many years ago in the International Harvester retirees’ case, “promises” of healthcare are not benefits protected under the ERISA law that protects pensions. The company can end retiree benefits or change required payments. And healthcare is usually the first thing to go because it costs so much money! The company can do this legally — and it has happened with many others, including some City of Chicago workers’ retiree healthcare.

So now you have to go back to the drawing board. As I see it, there are a few choices:
1. You can enroll in the affordable care act policies (Obamacare) as soon as you retire. Check to see when coverage starts under the SEP to coordinate with your retirement date. You would qualify for a Special Enrollment Period when your current benefits end. For any who lack insurance right now — for 2018 — you can definitely enroll immediately under the Special Enrollment provisions that apply if you have lost your job or lost healthcare coverage.
If you have low income in retirement, this is probably the best deal. But if you are going to take some kind of stock distribution or bonus that contributes to your income in 2019, it could boost your income so that you don’t get a subsidy– and then the ACA polices are VERY expensive! Consider that in your planning.

2. Short-term health insurance policies. Starting in January, many insurance companies will be allowed to offer policies that last 364 days — just under one year. BUT, they can discriminate based on pre-existing conditions, and they may not cover everything your employer plan had. You’ll have to re-apply again for another year just before the policy expires. Search at www.eHealthInsurance.com. (Note: full year policies will become available in January.)

3. COBRA — this is an extension of current benefits for 18 months. It is typically expensive but will offer the continuation your current coverage. But that may not be long enough to last until you reach age 65 and qualify for Medicare. And if your spouse is not age 65 at that point, he/she will still need short-term coverage.

4. DELAY YOUR RETIREMENT. I know this is a horrible thought– but until ACA, many people were forced to work until Medicare at age 65, just to maintain health coverage, and especially if they had pre-existing conditions that private insurance would not cover. That’s what the ACA debate was all about.

Yes, this is a major impediment to your retirement plans. But DON’T GO WITHOUT HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE– even if you have to delay your planned retirement date.

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