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Staff report • Aug 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Embarq retirees on Medicare in the Tri-Cities and nationwide will lose their company-sponsored supplemental health insurance Jan. 1.

Embarq sent letters to affected retirees in late July notifying them of that change and a cut in the maximum life insurance to $10,000.

The Communications Workers of America Local 3871 held an informational session for retirees Thursday evening at the union hall near Bluff City.

Retiree Haynes Fink worked for the local phone company for 38 years β€” dating back past Sprint to United Telephone β€” and said he believes Embarq broke a promise made by its predecessors, according to a Friday article by The Associated Press.

A company spokesman Friday said the change would affect about 600 retirees in Tennessee and 850 in Virginia, but that some of those affected in Virginia were not in Southwest Virginia.

β€œThe rationale is to remain competitive,” North Carolina-based Embarq spokesman Tom Matthews said Friday afternoon.

The change, starting in 2008, will save the company about $30 million a year and remove another $300 million off the balance sheet obligations for its post-retirement benefit plan.

Sprint spun off Embarq in early 2006, and Embarq is the dominant local landline phone provider in Northeast Tennessee as well as the Bristol, Va., area up to around Marion, Va., the area covered by CWA Local 3871.

Nationwide, Matthews said Embarq has more than 14,000 retirees, but only 10,000 or so are Medicare-eligible.

Of those 10,000, he said about 8,600 retirees and another 3,000 dependents will be without the company-sponsored supplement and will see the reduced life insurance benefit.

Jimmy Gurganus, Washington-based vice president for telecommunications for CWA International, and CWA Local 3871 President Eddie Hicks could not be reached for comment Friday.

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