On Wednesday, hospital officials declined to make anyone available for an interview and did not respond to questions from the Odessa American.
Meisell is speaking on behalf of a group of 380 retirees who received free health insurance from the hospital but will have to find new insurance after the Oct. 4 decision to scrap the program in a move to cut costs. Another 88 active employees eligible for the health plan once they retire will also be affected.
Meisell said Wednesday that an attorney in Houston has agreed to represent a group of about 100 retirees.
“If they want to talk and try to mediate this thing, there’s still a chance to do that,” Meisell said. “But because we lose benefits on Dec. 31, we have to file suit” if the board does not revisit the issue before then.
Meisell and other retirees say they want the board to reverse the cuts. In a statement Meisell submitted to the board, he cited employee documents from the 1980s that described the benefit meant to retain employees during a time of financial strain.
“We have to protect our retirees and our dependents,” Meisell said. “We earned that benefit. Reinstatement is the obvious solution. If there is another solution, we will listen to it. Btu I can’t imagine it’s much short of that.”
Dozens of former hospital employees protested the cut at the board meeting in November, where board members voted unanimously to stick with the plan to scrap the program while providing some additional money into accounts intended to help with costs of prescriptions.
Retirees argued the retirement benefits were promised by the hospital and earned after years of work. Some said they depend on the insurance.
“We want a reinstatement of our retirement benefits and a guarantee we won’t have to do this again,” said Glenda Wright, a former pediatric nurse protesting the board’s decision, on Wednesday.
Employee-sponsored retiree plans are the main source of supplemental insurance for people on Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people over 65 and younger people with permanent disabilities. On average, Medicare covers about half the health care charges of people enrolled.
But fewer employers in the public and private sectors offer retiree health insurance benefits amid rising costs.
There are 161 hospital district retirees who are younger than 65, but hospital officials will pay $750 a month, or up to $9,000 a year, into a Health Reimbursement Account until those former employees become eligible for Medicare.
The November amendment extended Health Reimbursement Accounts for retirees older than 65 and on Medicare, but not enough to cover their secondary insurance policies. Instead, they would receive between $22 to $85.27 per month, which is the range in local premiums for the Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Meisell criticized hospital officials for not allowing retirees to address the board.
“Not hearing from the public only makes bad situations worse, whether it’s this topic or any other,” Meisell said. “They are public servants by definition, and you have to be responsible to the public.”