By CAROLINE MURRAY
Dozens of retired teachers crowded inside Amsterdam's Central Administration Building Wednesday night to share their disappointment with a new health insurance plan that was implemented in January for recipients ages 55 to 64.
The action took place during a Greater Amsterdam School District board of education meeting.
At least 10 retired teachers spoke about how they felt betrayed by board members, who reportedly told them the new health coverage would be the same as the insurance plan in their previous contract.
Many said their co-payments have increased, and some of their prescriptions are no longer covered.
"When we teachers retired, we retired with an agreement or contract we felt was adequate to retire. When something as important and needed as our health insurance is changed from under us, it puts us in an unfortunate financial situation," retired GASD teacher Sarah Compoli said.
Compoli taught at Wilbur H. Lynch Literacy Academy for 31 years before retiring in 2012. Like other ATA members who spoke Wednesday, Compoli retired with the idea that her contract's health insurance plan would not be altered.
As of Jan. 1, she said her co-pay for doctor visits increased from $5 to $20. Additionally, Compoli said she and her husband's mail order prescriptions have gone from no cost to $181.60 for a three-month supply, and their walk-in pharmacy costs increased from $4 to $10.
Compoli said as former employees of the GASD, they had an obligation to their students and the school district to fulfill their responsibilities as dedicated teachers. She asked the board to reciprocate and fulfill its responsibilities to its retired teachers by honoring the contract under which they retired.
Superintendent Thomas Perillo said the school offers a Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Insurance plan, and it recently switched from a PPOA to a PPOB plan in January.
He said Blue Cross discontinued the original PPOA plan as of Dec. 31, and they needed to adopt a new health insurance plan for ATA members.
"So we had to move them to ... the plan that we have for our active employees," Perillo said.
The board reportedly met with the association in July to discuss the new health insurance plan, and Perillo said they were aware of the changes.
He said he already knew ATA members were upset by the changes in their contract. They met about three weeks ago to discuss the new plan, and Perillo said he told the members that no negotiations could be made.
One after one, the retired teachers tried to prove otherwise.
Diane Fyfe said as people get older they require more medical care. At age 45 she was diagnosed with cancer, but Fife said she was not looking for sympathy.
"I was fortunate to have good health insurance -- I am a 16-year survivor," she said.
Fife said she spoke matter-of-factly about the number of prescription drugs and doctor visits she still faces because of complications stemming from her previous cancer treatment.
"One of my doctors won't even take our insurance, so I pay out of pocket," Fife said. "Coincidentally, I received a bill from him today for $550 and I called our insurance and they won't touch it."
Craig Pangburn, who taught and coached in the district for 31 years, compared the ordeal to a television commercial.
Pangburn said that in this case, the association members were the customers getting swindled out of money by a deal that Perillo made seem too good to be true.
Some of the speakers acknowledged that the board met with ATA members in July to discuss the health insurance plan discontinued by their carrier.
They said at that meeting, association members offered solutions to board members, and assumed their concerns were going to be taken care of. They believed the new insurance would be equivalent to their existing plan.
Three weeks ago, when they followed up with the board about their disapproval with the new plan, they were allegedly shut out of any further discussion.
"The group was told there are no differences in coverage between the two plans, and because the retirees are no longer employees of the Amsterdam school district they are not recognized as a bargaining unit so there is no need to discuss it," said retired teacher Tim McKnight.
He believed that a mutually beneficial resolution could be reached between the association and the board without either side taking legal action first.
Perillo said the board needs to discuss the next step.