Thursday, December 27, 2007

The EEOC Says "Gotcha!"

It's a sad time for retirees. Yesterday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") issued a regulation permitting employers to reduce or eliminate health benefits for employees who turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare. The regulation allows employers to establish two classes of retirees: (a) those under 65 receiving comprehensive benefits; and (b) those 65 or over receiving limited to no benefits.

Employers are now free to use age as a basis for reducing or eliminating health care benefits for retirees 65 and older. Discrimination, you say? Hold on to your hats, folks. To add insult to injury, the regulation creates an explicit exemption from age-discrimination laws for employers that scale back benefits of retirees 65 and over. I say "baloney!" If this isn't age discrimination, I don't know what is. Even though it looks, acts and smells like a duck, the EEOC says it isn't. Give me a break, will ya?

The employer lobby contends that having such a two-tiered system will save oodles of money for companies because Medicare picks up much of the tab and coverage for those 65 and over. Thus, those in the second tier have nothing to worry about. Excuse me, but has anyone over at the EEOC looked at the joke of a program that is Medicare? The infamous Part "D" alone, with its exclusions, exceptions and monetary thresholds is enough to make anyone's head spin. Many senior citizens still lack proper coverage and care even when they have Medicare. By issuing the new regulation, the EEOC merely exacerbates and validates an already broken system.

As an attorney who represents employers mostly, the EEOC's action is great news as it will result in tremendous cost savings. However, in my capacity as "Joe Citizen," I believe that this is an awful and disgraceful result; it merely serves to reaffirm this country's general view of senior citizens as unwanted, disposable beings who are undeserving of compassion and respect. To those who agree with the EEOC, I remind them that they, too, will reach 65 one day. How will they feel about all this then?

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