Retiree Health Benefits
For many of America's retirees, paying the soaring costs of healthcare is possible only with the help of their company's retirement package—benefits they counted on for life. Today, many companies are moving to cut benefits and shift costs to retirees, forcing some to drop out of coverage and others into court to save benefits they thought were guaranteed. Corporate lawyers are filing preemptive lawsuits against former employees and relying on interpretations of fine print to make their case in court with greater and greater success. In "The Broken Promise," NOW joins THE WALL STREET JOURNAL's award-winning reporter Ellen Schultz to go inside the legal wrangling underway to tell the stories of workers and executives who say these companies are reneging on a promise and putting profits before people.
It's no secret that health care costs are increasing for both retirees and businesses. The figures put forward by several recent studies are grim as costs go up employer coverage is going down. A 2004 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found "79 percent increased their retirees’ contributions for premiums in the past year, and 85 percent expect to do so in the coming year;
53 percent increased copayments or coinsurance for prescription drugs in the past year, and 49 percent expect to do so in the coming year;
37 percent raised deductibles for health care services in the past year, and 43 percent expect to do so in the coming year;
29 percent raised out-of-pocket limits on retirees’ obligations in the past year, and 37 percent expect to do so in the coming year.
Overall, more than half of surveyed employers (54 percent) have imposed financial caps on their firms’ contributions to at least one retiree health plan offered in 2004." A study by the firm Watson Wyatt suggests that the level of employer financial support of retiree health costs will drop to less than 10 percent of total medial expenses by 2031. And, a Boston College Center for Retirement Research shows the rapid increase in the medical costs that older Americans will be paying in the future. Learn more from the Peabody Award-winning series on retiree health plans.
Median Income and Health Care Spending for Older Americans
Figures from "Will Health Care Costs Erode Retirement Security?" Richard W. Johnson and Rudolph G. Penner, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College
|Before Tax Family Income||$36,800||$42,380||$47,400||$50,690|
|Out-of-Pocket Health Care Spending||$5,760||$9,810||$12,950||$16,400|
|After-Tax Income Net of Health Spending||$30,330||$31,370||$31,450||$30,380|
|Health Spending as Share of After Tax Income||16%||23.8%||29.2%||35.1%|
|Before Tax Family Income||$15,380||$17,690||$20,320||$23,130|
|Out-of-Pocket Health Care Spending||$2,660||$4,180||$5,300||$6,970|
|After-Tax Income Net of Health Spending||$12,700||$13,480||$14,970||$16,070|
|Health Spending as Share of After Tax Income||17.3%||23.7%||26.2%||30.3%|
Ellen E. Schultz and Theo Francis of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL won the George Polk Award for Economic Reporting for "Financial Surgery: How Cuts in Retiree Benefits Fatten Companies' Bottom Lines," an exposé on corporate accounting practices that reduce employee benefits. Schultz and Francis also were honored two years ago for exposing a pension investment hoax. Read the award-winning stories below.
- "Plaintiff Cry: When Retirees Sue an Ex-Employer," November 10, 2004
- "End Run: Companies Sue Union Retirees To Cut Promised Health Benefits," November 10, 2004
- "Ford and GM Get SEC Request On Pension Accounting Practices," October 20, 2004
- "Medicare 'Windfalls' Pose Hurdle for Government," July 28, 2004
- "Employer Actions Drive Health Costs For Retirees Higher," December 30, 2004
- "How Lucent's Retiree Programs Cost It Zero, Even Yielded Profit," March 29, 2004
- "How Cuts in Retiree Benefits Fatten Companies' Bottom Lines," March 16, 2004