no avatar

Eastman says it isn't cutting retiree health benefits, but changes are in the works

Sharon Caskey Hayes • Sep 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Medicare-eligible retirees from Eastman Chemical Co. are facing some changes in their health care coverage.

About 6,000 Medicare-eligible Eastman retirees, survivors and persons with disabilities are receiving information in the mail this week from the company explaining the health care changes.

Phil Belcher, Eastman employee benefits associate, said the company is not cutting benefits. Instead, Eastman has contracted with a company called Extend Health to help the Medicare retirees and survivors navigate the commercial Medicare marketplace.

“Eastman is maintaining the same level of investment in the Medicare retiree’s health care,” Belcher said.

He said Extend Health has experts in Medicare plans who will work with Eastman retirees to help them choose the plan that best fits them.

Belcher said the change will give retirees more control and flexibility over how they use their health care benefits.

“The Medicare retiree has fixed benefit dollars, and so we wanted to find a way to improve value for the retiree while maintaining the same level of investment,” Belcher said.

Retirees will have an account called a Health Reimbursement Arrangement, and they’ll be reimbursed from that account for premiums or eligible medical expenses, similar to how a flexible spending account works, Belcher said.

“So the retiree will just have more control over the way they use their benefits,” he said.

Previously, Eastman has offered only limited plan options for Medicare-eligible retirees. By contracting with Extend Health, which has relationships with major carriers across the country, retirees will now have access to more plan options.

Belcher noted that this is individual coverage that is “guaranteed issue,” and pre-existing conditions will not influence participation.

“So nobody has to be nervous,” he said. “This is not negative. This is positive.”

“The bottom line is — it’s not a takeaway. It’s our way of improving value for the Medicare retiree, with options and choices, period,” Belcher said.

Eastman will hold educational sessions for its Medicare-eligible retirees and survivors beginning later this month. Meeting dates and times are included in booklets mailed by the company to those affected.

Recommended for You

    Kingsport Times News Videos