The Association of U S West Retirees



Despite pinch of rising health costs, cutbacks not a burden for retiree
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 shedding."

Barbara M. Wilcox

Age:  64

Residence:  Denver

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.,2777,DRMN_23910_5218028,00.html