pinch of rising health costs, cutbacks not a burden for
By Jeff Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Barbara Wilcox is quick to
say Qwest's planned cutbacks in retiree benefits won't put
her in hardship. But the health care caps will certainly
affect her, she said, as she noted she already has seen her
out-of-pocket health expenses skyrocket in recent years.
And she is disappointed she'll lose most of her $100,000
life insurance policy, money she had planned to leave to her
sister and her children.
Wilcox said her husband, a retired computer programmer,
doesn't have health insurance so he's on her Qwest policy.
Wilcox, who left U S West in 2000 with a pension, said the
first year after she retired, they incurred less than $1,000
in medical expenses.
But that number soared to $5,000 in 2004 and more than
$7,000 in 2005 and 2006, partly because she signed up for a
"consumer-directed" plan President Bush and other promoted.
The option, dubbed a preventative health care plan, has a
high deductible of $2,400, Wilcox said.
"It turned out to be a bad deal for us," she said. "We've
had some significant medical things crop up, so that's part
of the explanation. There's also the fact that the company
is transferring more and more of the cost to us."
Next year, Wilcox plans to switch over to another option
with better coverage and a lower deductible. But the
premiums will be more expensive, running $219 a month, she
said. Her husband also now has Medicare premiums to pay.
Wilcox, a university professor before joining U S West in
1980, acknowledges Qwest made it clear that those who
retired after 1990 wouldn't be guaranteed paid health care
coverage. And she understands Qwest's argument that many
other companies have cut health care coverage deeper and
faster as costs in general rise.
"What they say is true," Wilcox said. "At the same time,
it's really difficult for me to see this widening gap
between the top executives and the workers in the company.
We as retirees are getting caught in that."
Wilcox agrees with those who say the country needs a major
overhaul in its health care system. But, in the meantime,
"There's no safety net to pick up what the employers are now
Barbara M. Wilcox
Career: Worked at U S West from 1980-2000, in state
regulatory issues for much of that time.
Costs: Will lose $90,000 of life insurance. Paid health
care premiums of $51 a month for much of 2006 but incurred
more than $7,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.