New Health Care Coalition Calls on Lawmakers Not to Ignore "Bridge Years" Workers

As members of Congress return to Washington, D.C. to address health care reform, a new alliance of businesses and labor unions is reminding policy makers not to forget the health care needs of a key segment of the population: Americans aged 55-64.

The Bridge Years Health Coalition, which includes the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Communication Workers of America and Verizon Communications, is launching a public campaign to let President Barack Obama and lawmakers know that any serious health care reform bill must ensure access to affordable, quality health care for the approximately 33 million Americans who are nearing retirement but are facing an increasingly uncertain financial future.

In a letter the coalition addressed to congressional leaders, it writes that for these "Bridge Years" workers:

(M)edian income is dropping and their health is declining. Many are in financial jeopardy - retirement savings slashed by falling equity markets, worried about whether they will be able to keep their jobs ... The availability and cost of health insurance can be the difference between a secure retirement and economic collapse.

Workers who fall into the 55-64 range find themselves in a precarious position in today's economy. Too young to receive Medicare, they are viewed as too "old" by many private insurers, with premiums as much as five times higher than those for younger workers.

For those between the ages of 60 and 64, nearly one and three applicants for individual insurance are denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition.  This lack of affordable insurance makes early retirement impossible for many workers, which means holding on to a job that provides coverage becomes the difference between financial stability and ruin.

For companies that do provide health care coverage for retirees, the rising cost of health care is creating a tremendous financial strain.

According to IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill:

Retiree health care is becoming one of the most contentious issues our union has to deal with when we sit down at the bargaining table. Our members and our employers need some relief from Washington so the health care of our retirees isn't put at risk.

The coalition advocates that Congress explore different options to make sure bridge years workers are covered, including:

*    Giving them a choice of plans that are subject to a reasonable age rating limit and ban exclusions for pre-existing conditions.
*    Government-funded relief to employers that offer retiree health benefits.

To read more about the Bridge Years Health Coalition, click here.

Tags: Barack Obama, Bridge Years Health Coalition, Congress, CWA, health care reform, IBEW, Medicare, Retiree Health Care, Verizon (all tags)

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