NEWS
NRLN Speaks Out On Legislation To Authorize

Greater Access To Generic Drugs And A Medicare

Prescription Drug Benefit

 

            Out of the blue, General Motors retirees who belong to NRLN recently were solicited by the President of General Motors, Gary L. Cowger, to write members of Congress and urge enactment of the Senate-passed Greater Access To Affordable Pharmaceuticals Act of 2002 (which is still pending in the House) as well as legislation that would add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. The first would remove obstacles in existing law that prevent the greater entry of generic drugs into the market, and the second would provide Medicare-eligible seniors with prescription drug coverage, a proposal both political parties agree on in principle but not as to the specifics. 

            Needless to say, NRLN was struck by the fact that a corporate giant like General Motors suddenly would start a legislative health crusade on behalf of retirees, especially since this is the same General Motors that was responsible for reneging on health commitments it made to its own retirees that resulted in the notorious case of  Sprague v. General Motors Corp., 133 F. 3d 388 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 524 U.S. 923 (1998).  In that case, a federal court of appeals ultimately upheld GM’s right to gyp over 60,000 GM retirees of the health benefits they had been promised in return for their agreement to retire early.

             On closer inspection, NRLN discovered that GM’s newly minted campaign in support of retiree-friendly drug legislation probably has a hidden agenda – one not so favorable to retirees.  Without certain restrictions, greater use of cheaper generic drugs – in itself a worthy objective – could permit GM to maneuver more freely in compelling their retirees to forego prescription medicine even though their doctors may have recommended in particular cases that they should only use prescription medicine. 

            Similarly, once a prescription drug benefit is added to Medicare, there is nothing to prevent GM from terminating or substantially reducing the prescription drug coverage it agreed to provide to its already existing Medicare-eligible retirees, saving GM millions by forcing GM retirees to switch to a lower-grade prescription drug program than the one they had.

             The question is whether GM is really interested in promoting better drug coverage for seniors or whether it is using these otherwise praiseworthy legislative proposals as a means of justifying the unloading of health obligations owed to its existing retirees.  Since all retirees – not just GM retirees - could be adversely affected by other employers jumping on the GM bandwagon – as many retirees as possible should alert both GM and their Congressional representatives that retirees will not appreciate the enactment of drug legislation that will result in many of them losing rather than gaining health benefits.

             Because this entire dilemma would be rendered moot by the enactment of HR 1322, the Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act (or its companion bill in the Senate S.2904), which would ban post-retirement cutbacks in retiree health benefits, both GM and members of Congress should be reminded that there is a right way and a wrong way to deal with retiree health issues and the GM approach is the wrong way unless it adopts the principles of HR 1322.

             For examples of model letters that retirees can send to GM and members of Congress on this subject, keep reading below.


Model Letter For Retirees Associated With NRLN To Write To The President of General Motors About GM Lobbying In Support Of The Greater Access to Affordable Pharmaceuticals Act and Federal Legislation That Would Add A Prescription Drug Benefit to Medicare

Gary L. Cowger
President
GM North America
300 Renaissance Center
P.O. Box 300
Detroit, MI  48265-3000 

Re:       GM Lobbying Concerning the Greater

            Access to Affordable Pharmaceuticals

            Act and Federal Legislation That Would

            Add A Prescription Drug Benefit to Medicare 

Dear Mr. Cowger: 

            I am writing regarding recent efforts by General Motors to urge their retirees to write Congress to enact the Greater Access To Affordable Pharmaceuticals Act as well as legislation that would provide a Medicare prescription drug benefit. 

             Speaking as a non-GM retiree, I strongly support the above legislation, but I am deeply concerned that unless Congress enacts certain restrictions to accompany it, employers, like GM, could (a) force their retirees to use generic drugs even in instances where physicians have recommended that only prescription medicine should be used, and (b) withdraw or curtail prescription drug or other health benefits from both their Medicare-eligible and non-Medicare eligible retirees on grounds that the cost of providing drug benefits to the Medicare-eligible uninsured makes it impractical for the employer to continue prior benefits. 

            I urge GM to clarify its position on this matter and assure the Congress that it will not renege on previous health benefit commitments made to existing retirees and that it will support generic and Medicare prescription drug laws that also restrict employers from making adverse post-retirement changes to their retiree health plans.  I call your attention to HR 1322, the Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act, and its companion bill in the Senate, S. 2904.  This bill would go a long way to protect retirees against post-retirement cutbacks in their company-provided health benefits so that these benefits are just as secure as their pensions are under ERISA.  If GM is sincere in asking its retirees to support generic drug and Medicare prescription drug legislation, GM can show its good faith by endorsing HR 1322 and S. 2904.

 

                                                                                    Sincerely,


Model Letter to Congress

To a Senator

The Honorable (full name)
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510 

Dear Senator (Last name):        

 

To a Representative

The Honorable (full name)
United States House of Representative
s
Washington, D.C. 20515 

Dear Representative (Last name):           

Text of Model Letter 

            Although I strongly support the Senate-passed Greater Access To Affordable Pharmaceuticals Act of 2002 (currently still pending in the House), as well as legislation that would provide a Medicare prescription drug benefit, I am deeply concerned that unless Congress enacts certain restrictions to accompany this legislation, employers could (a) force retirees like myself to use generic drugs even where our physicians have recommended that in certain cases only prescription medicine should be used, and (b) withdraw prescription drug coverage and other health benefits that retirees worked all their lives to obtain as their price for supporting a prescription drug benefit for Medicare-eligible retirees who lack such coverage. 

            I urge you to see to it that the legislation in question is modified to safeguard existing retirees against loss or curtailment of their prescription drug and other health benefits, and also to support HR 1322, the Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act, or its companion bill in the Senate, S. 2904. This bill will go a long way to protect retirees against post-retirement cutbacks in their company-provided health benefits so that these benefits are just as secure as their pensions are under ERISA.

                                                                                     Sincerely,


 

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  Last modified: Oct 11, 07