AARP Floods EEOC with Protests

April 26, 2004 ( - The nation's anti-discrimination agency last week was deluged with angry calls and e-mails from AARP members about federal officials' controversial health benefits decision.

>The flood of more than 10,000 AARP communications to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was about the  agency’s decision  to let employers coordinate their retiree health benefits with Medicare, according to news reports (See  EEOC Approves ‘Erie County’ Exemption ). Despite last week’s vote, the AARP pledges to keep battling the new rule, which effectively permits employers to   reduce or eliminate health benefits for retirees when they become eligible for Medicare coverage at age 65.

“All of us understand the pressures employers are under with regard to health costs,” Michael Naylor, director of advocacy for AARP, told the Washington Post. “But robbing Peter to pay Paul here is not a good option for anyone and not a good option for the EEOC in particular.”   Naylor told other reporters that AARP would try to get the rule revised before it is finalized and may seek intervention from Congressional lawmakers. On the Web, the AARP posted a Naylor statement  on the issue.

>In  a statement  posted to the EEOC Web site Friday, however, Chair Cari Dominguez insisted that portraying her agency’s move as a retiree take-away was inaccurate. “When finalized, our rule will make clear that it is legal for employers to continue to provide you with the health benefits you currently receive,” she said in the statement. “The rule will not require any cuts to your benefits. It will not encourage any employer who offers these benefits to change them in any way. The Commission recognizes the importance of health benefits to retirees. Our vote yesterday was a vote to preserve these benefits.”

Meanwhile, the American Benefits Council, an industry group, defended the EEOC vote, despite the AARP’s com

“The Council applauds the EEOC’s action to finalize the rule clarifying that an employer does not violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) – even if it does not provide the same level of benefits to early retirees and to older retirees who are eligible for coverage under Medicare,” said President James Klein, in a statement. ” This action will better stabilize the retiree health benefit system and help staunch the flow of employers terminating their retiree health programs. Despite anxieties and misperceptions created by the AARP, this rule does not cut back retiree benefits. It allows for the integration of employer-sponsored coverage with that offered by Medicare. Without this rule, many more pre-age 65 retirees would have their health care benefits reduced or lose coverage completely.”