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Irate Retirees Inundate CBS2 With Emails After New York City Changes Health Benefits For 250,000 Workers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A stunning move by the city to change the health benefits of hundreds of thousands of retired workers has prompted them to claim they're being forced to accept an inferior and costly plan that could bankrupt them in their golden years.

CBS2's Marcia Kramer, who received an avalanche of emails from retirees, demanded answers from Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday.

You know that something must be terribly wrong when you're inundated with pleas from an army of retired teachers, correction officers, cops and other former city employees begging for help to try and overturn a city decision to change their health insurance.

They claim that they took often low-paying city jobs because the benefits were so good, and now the city is reneging.

"I am angry, I'm disappointed and I feel that it's a betrayal," retired New York City Housing Authority worker William Shenton said.

Shenton, who worked for the agency for 30 years, was talking about a deal worked out by Mayor de Blasio and the unions to save $600 million a year with a massive change to the health insurance offered to 250,000 retirees.

Shenton and his wife, Susan, who suffers from a chronic lung disease, are now faced with the choice of accepting the city's new plan, Medicare Advantage Plus, or opting out to maintain their existing insurance, which will cost them an extra $200 a month each.

"We were promised that this would be for life, that we'd have the same insurance that we had when we were working and it would cover our families, and now it's being taken back from us," William Shenton said.

The Shentons said they have to pay to stay in the old plan because the new one would cover only a fraction of the medicines Susan needs. One drug alone costs $130,000 a year.

"I'd say to the mayor that he may be looking out for his bottom line, but he's not looking out for the people," Susan Shenton said.

The Shentons are not alone. CBS2 has been inundated with complaints and emails.

"I can no longer get the needed cancer treatment from my doctors quickly because the new program is requiring preauthorization which will delay my treatment by weeks, if I'm able to get treatment at all," a retired teacher named Rose wrote.

"A back-room deal in a smoky room," fumed retiree Loraine Motola.

Others argue that many doctors don't accept the new plan or that they would have to change where they get care. They say they have been betrayed on two fronts. First, because they were promised the benefits when they were hired, and, second, because the deal was negotiated by the unions, which they say don't represent their interests.

The unions disagree.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew argued that the new plan is an attempt "to preserve premium-free health care for active and retired employees even as medical care costs rise in the city and nationwide."

"...with the NYC Medicare Advantage Plus plan, retirees will be able to go to any doctor or hospital that accepts Medicare," insisted District Council 37 head Henry Garrido.

"They're accusing you of working a back-room deal in a smoky room, that they're not able to get the same kind of health benefits and a lot of doctors won't take the plan. How do you defend the decision?" Kramer asked de Blasio.

"What they're telling you just isn't accurate. There's no deals or anything like that. This was an open, ongoing, thoughtful process with the Municipal Labor Council to figure out how to protect health care benefits for the long term," de Blasio said. "There needs to be more communications with the doctors as well to make sure they understand that this is the same kind of plan in the sense of the coverage that we expect to see from doctors."

"It's heartbreaking to hear their stories," Kramer continued.

"Marcia, it is heartbreaking to hear their stories, except they're, unfortunately, being given false information," de Blasio said.

The retirees have gone to court to challenge both the city's right to change their health care and the right of the unions to negotiate the deal.

The City Council has scheduled a hearing at the end of the month.

Editor's note: This story was first published Oct. 13.

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