Letters mischaracterized proposed changes in retired teachers’ health care benefits

BRATTLEBORO — For the past seven years, my life focus has been in calling out fraud, scams, and scammers. As a columnist, radio talk show invitee, video series host and producer, and presenter, I seek out scams and work to educate the public.

Linda Hay and David Kolkebeck wrote letters to this publication warning of what sounded like a scam being dropped on retired teachers by the state of Vermont. As a retired teacher, this obviously caught my eye and as a member of the Vermont Retired Educators board of directors (we consider all those who were employed in our schools as educators) I became somewhat curious.

Research and questioning, something I do as a fraud fighter, became my focus.

The initial discovery was that the term applied to the insurance coverage, Advantage Plan, is somewhat of a misnomer. We are all familiar with the barrage of star-laden advertising telling seniors that virtually everything in health care is free. Obviously untrue, but such is contemporary deceptive marketing.

The reality, with respect to the state-provided retiree insurance, is that it is not the Advantage Plans promoted on TV and in the details, it resembles a traditional supplemental plan carrying additional benefits.

Ms. Hay and Mr. Kolkebeck did an excellent job describing a health care program that is not what is offered by the state.

I don't know what research they did in terms of contacting the Vermont State Retirement Office, the Vermont Retired Educator's Association, or, for that matter, Blue Cross Blue Shield to specifically ask what this program entails.

I don't know if they participated in the informational webinars and asked questions. I don't know if they viewed the on-line video that was available.

What I do know is that some of the comments were alarming fake news, and repeating or supporting them makes them appear to be the reality.

There were some regrettable steps taken in the process. The lateness of the negotiations on the details of the program resulted in late notice with little time to review before having to make a decision, but urging people to opt out without having the details is as reckless as telling people to refuse a vaccination for a disease and ingest horse medicine.

The use of Advantage Plan as a title clearly created misunderstandings, but all said, the plan is beneficial, not a flimflam. Of course, when the next open enrollment period arrives people can opt out if the plan does not work for them.

Please take the time to read the literature on the state treasurer's website and the Blue Cross Blue Shield website vermontblueadvantage.com/vtstrs, and feel free to contact me at [email protected].

I can only hope that since Ms. Hay and Mr. Kolkebeck were quick to critique, they will be just as quick to publicly retract their comments and admit to errors. I certainly plan to do that if I am wrong.

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