Bill unlikely to restore prescription drug benefits to state retirees

By Gabriel Donahue, editor-in-chief 

An unlikely bill before the Maryland General Assembly could restore prescription drug benefits to some state retirees, who will lose coverage from Maryland come January. 

Chapter 397 of 2011, passed under Democratic then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, prepared for the discontinuation of prescription drug benefits for retired state employees upon becoming eligible for Medicare at 65 once a coverage gap in the federal health insurance program closed in 2020. 

The change also applied retrospectively to retirees who were hired before July 1, 2011, whose agreed-upon benefits for employment included prescription drug coverage. 

Eight Republican delegates co-signed House Bill 670 to restore the benefits to these workers. 

However, it has not moved since its introduction, making it highly unlikely to pass before the legislative session ends next week. The same is true for its counterpart, Senate Bill 394.

“We know this has been frustrating for our state retirees, they have our support and we appreciate their years of hard work for the State of Maryland,” Del. Kathy Szeliga and Del. Ryan Nawrocki wrote Tuesday in a statement to The Towerlight. 

Some members of the Towson University Retired Faculty Association have advocated against the removal of prescription drug benefits and testified in favor of HB670. 

TURFA President-elect James Roberts has headed a work group to spread awareness of the change and grow support for the bill across some University System of Maryland colleges. 

“Medicare does provide prescription benefits, and many, many thousands if not millions of retirees are using them,” Roberts said. “The difference is it’s not the one that we had been promised. The one that we were promised is better.”

Roberts, who retired from Towson in 2022, compared costs of various prescription drug plans against the state’s and found that the state plan covers more drugs at a lower cost. 

The cheapest Medicare plan costs $3,720 more than the state plan, he found. 

“Many of us stayed with the state because of the benefits,” said Jane Wolfson, retired director of Towson’s Environmental Studies & Sciences program. “We all could have gone to the private sector –– or many of us –– or gone to another university where we would have made more money.” 

“And it’s not just us, you know,” Wolfson continued. “All of the administrative staff, the people in the bookstore, I mean everybody that you work with all the time also very often selected to work with the state because of the benefits, because … at the time, they were quite generous and they compensated for the lack of salary.”

The state notified retirees in January. The university’s human resources office was informed of the announcement before those letters were sent, according to lead benefits specialist Amy Radcliffe. 

Prescription drug coverage for retired state employees could have been discontinued in January 2019 after Medicare’s coverage gap was closed ahead of schedule. However, in 2018, a group of retirees sued the state for breach of contract, Maryland Matters reported

A federal judge issued an injunction to allow coverage to continue as the case was processed, according to another Maryland Matters article

That injunction was dissolved in July. A 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Maryland had no contractual obligation to provide prescription drug benefits, The Daily Record reported

Eligible retirees must now enroll in a Medicare part D plan between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7 to have prescription drug coverage by Jan. 1. Current coverage will continue until Dec. 31, according to the Department of Budget and Management’s retiree webpage. Active employees will maintain coverage until they retire and become eligible for Medicare.

The state will host one-on-one meetings with retirees to help choose the best plan, it said. 

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that prescription drug benefits will continue for state employees until they retire and are eligible for Medicare.

Gabe Donahue has held numerous positions within The Towerlight. He started as a writer before becoming the News Editor, and now he serves as Editor-in-Chief.


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