For Mayor de Blasio’s administration, the buck stops when the paper runs out. Lawyers for the administration claimed in court Wednesday that “a global paper supply shortage” is preventing the city from issuing new health care enrollment guides to hundreds of thousands of retired municipal workers — even though the original instruction packages sent to them were riddled with errors. Story from Daily News by Chris Sommerfeldt. Dec. 8
The lawyers, Rachel DiBenedetto and William Frankel, made the curious argument in a filing ahead of a Wednesday hearing in Manhattan Supreme Court, writing it would be too “costly and time-consuming” to resend guides about a controversial new Medicare plan that the city wants to foist upon the retirees.
“Due to a global paper supply shortage worldwide, with ‘lead times’ for new orders currently stretching into February 2022, it would be impossible to quickly secure millions of additional pages of paper stock, as would be necessary to re-print the enrollment guides en masse,” they wrote.
More than 80 pages in length, the lawyers estimated it would cost the city $825,000 to print and mail new enrollment guides to the roughly 250,000 retired workers relying on municipal health coverage — an expense they deemed “wasteful.”
On the flipside, DiBenedetto and Frankel acknowledged that at least five sections of the original enrollment guide contains inaccurate information about the new plan’s requirements for prior authorization for certain medical procedures, including physical therapy and diagnostic services.
Instead of issuing new physical guides, the de Blasio lawyers suggested correcting the flawed entries on the plan website, which is being administered by a coalition of providers known as Alliance. They also said any retiree who personally requests a new physical guide can get one mailed to them.
But Steve Cohen — an attorney for a group of retirees who sued the city over the new Medicare plan because they fear it could water down their health coverage — countered that many of his elderly clients are not internet savvy and compared the city’s paper supply shortage claim to “saying that rising gas prices should keep police cars, fire engines and sanitation trucks in their garages.”
“Senior citizens deserve accurate information,” Cohen told the Daily News. “The City and Alliance managed to print 250,000 incorrect, misleading enrollment guides earlier in the fall; they should be able to figure out how to print and mail accurate ones. This excuse would be laughable — if it weren’t so sad.”
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lyle Frank blocked the city last month from moving ahead with enrollment in the new plan, ordering the de Blasio administration to first address a series of issues brought up by the retirees.
With de Blasio leaving office on Jan. 1, the issue appears all but certain to drag on beyond the inauguration of Mayor-elect Eric Adams, who has expressed sympathy with concerns about the plan raised by retirees.
The administration is arguing the new Medicare Advantage Plus plan would save city taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year because the benefits would be covered by federal funds at a higher rate than under current stipulations.
Before Frank stepped in, the administration was pushing for retirees to be automatically enrolled in the new plan unless they chose to opt-out and keep their current coverage at a higher monthly cost.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue the new plan could shortchange their health coverage and impose complicated preapproval processes for certain medical procedures.
At Wednesday’s hearing, the city lawyers presented a new proposal under which retirees would have to opt-out of the new plan by Dec. 31, with the caveat that they could switch back to their old coverage months later without penalty.
The judge did not immediately make a ruling, saying he needed time to review the city’s latest proposal in consultation with the retirees.