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How the Koch Brothers hurt 600 retirees and their survivors in Northern Maine

February 19th, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Last fall,  I attended a family funeral with my cousins and Aunt.   She lives just down the street from my mother in Millinocket, Maine.  My Uncle and my father both worked at the paper mill there, which was owned by Georgia Pacific at the time of their retirements. Their respective unions negotiated healthcare benefits and they sacrificed other benefits to get great insurance coverage.  When they retired, they and their surviving spouses were promised those benefits for life. In 2005, Koch Industries bought GP.  My aunt told me that their insurance was changing, and that the enrollment had to be completed in the next several weeks.  So much for the excellent comprehensive lifetime benefit.  I’m confidant  that this decision puts more $$$$$$ in the Koch brothers pockets.  But, how does this affect seniors in my mother’s and Aunt’s neighborhood.

Many of these seniors are sick, disabled, and/or they have hearing, cognitive and other problems that makes this change difficult or impossible for them. They needed assistance getting through the insurance exchange process, and some of them have no one to help.   Because many of these surviving wives, including my mother,  had never dealt with insurance, and because it is so complex, I handled this new insurance enrollment for my mother who is 87 years old.  I am her Power of Attorney.  The letters and instructions, booklets, and rules, and so called choices, and all the other ‘stuff’ of insurance started to roll in.  Their old plan through GP was simple, never changed,  required no filling in of forms, and offered a $2 copay for any and all prescriptions.  They had this great coverage for almost 30 years.  The people who are affected by this insurance change  are all in their 80s and 90s.

Herbie Clark, the long time former State Representative for the Millinocket region started hearing about problems that these seniors were having with enrollment.  Then some colleagues at the Area Agency on Aging in Bangor told me that they had received many calls from concerned and confused seniors about this issue.  They tried to get some general  information from GP so they could help the seniors.  They were basically told to butt out and nobody would tell them anything unless they were a retiree or the survivor/beneficiary of one.   Herbie started going to people’s home’s to help them through this exhausting, complex and lengthy process of enrolling.  My mother’s enrollment took me 4.5 hours…and entire afternoon, and it was riddled with errors.  So far, Herbie has helped over 60 seniors get through this  process.   There was so much angst and confusion about this insurance business that I suggested community meetings about it.  Herbie and the AAA arranged the first meetings and I attended (I live 70 miles away).  One was held in Millinocket and one in East Millinocket just 8 miles away.  About 40 seniors showed up.  The AAA gave some great advice about medicare benefits and how their new insurance would work with it and Herbie gave what information he had, but those seniors had questions about Why??  How come a benefit that they had negotiated in good faith and worked and sacrificed for, could just be changed out of the blue like this??  They were angry…so am I!  Rep Mike Michaud’s aide attended this meeting also.  Mike is running for governor this year.

Susan from Mike’s office arranged for a GP rep and and Extend Care (the contracted insurance exchange company)  rep to come to Millinocket for two more meetings in the two communities,  to answer some questions and address problems.  Everyone on the list of beneficiaries was sent a letter about the meeting, but they were told to attend ONLY if they had not yet enrolled. In other words, “don’t come to complain”.  So, attendance was not what it could have been.  There were probably 30 people at the Millinocket meeting and fewer at the East Millinocket meeting.  We asked the tough questions, but nobody answered the question “Why would you change this insurance now, at our age?”  Their weak response was  “We wanted to offer you more choices!”  These seniors made their choice about 30 years ago and they had been perfectly happy with that choice.  Nobody in the room wanted any new choices.   We were told that about 30% of the affected and eligable seniors had not enrolled yet, and this was just a few weeks before the enrollment deadline.  We worried that these seniors would fall through the cracks and asked for a list of those people. We were denied a list because of HIPAA privacy laws.   I wondered how worried those people would be about HIPAA when their insurance is gone.  30% of 600 is 180 people with a benefit worth between $3500 and $4000 per year…that is around $720,000 that GP/Koch can keep if the benefit is not claimed.   I really do wonder how much HIPAA has to do with this decision to not give us names so we could help find and enroll these seniors.

When my father died 5 years ago, he went with the comfort of knowing that my mother had great insurance coverage, a comfortable savings account, and a solid nice  home that she owned outright. He would be livid about this change.  My mother’s first visit to the drug store after her insurance changed shocked her.  Her cortisone nasal spray went from $2 to $95! She left it on the counter, and the concerned pharmacist called me at home.   I was sold a policy that did not cover her medicine, even though they had a list of all her medicines.   Because I got such a run around from Blue Cross about this, the only option was to call her doc and ask for a comparable medicine.  That one cost $11.  My friend Herbie has told me many similar and worse stories.   Many of the seniors who are affected by this change are living on the edge financially.  They are now required to pay a higher copay, or full price for their medicines and they must pay the insurance premiums up front, to be reimbursed down the line.   This may mean financial ruin for these elderly people, or that they will be forced to choose between rent/food/heat and medicine.

This corporate decision and action by Georgia Pacific, owned by Koch, borders on elder abuse.  This is an unforgivable burden placed on elderly people in my hometown and region ……by all appearances,  to make rich people richer.   Unforgivable. 

ADDENDUM:   I wrote this blog in early 2014.  Since then, my mother has had numerous incidents at the Pharmacy including reaching the “donut hole” which I was told would not happen with the plan chose.  An inhaler she uses to keep her from having asthma attacks was not covered and would cost her $150 until her new plan year started.  She didn’t buy it and left it on the counter.  This lead to the pharmacist calling her doctor.  Her doctor then called me concerned about my mother’s memory, which is not good, but she does incredibly well with help from neighbors and my family.  People with dementia need routine and consistency, and this new Koch insurance plan changed everything about her medicines, and did not meet my mother’s needs.  Because of that, her doctor questioned whether my mother should even be driving?  My mothers driving is excellent, as witnessed by me and her neighbors, and she never leaves her tiny community.  All of this discomfort and confusion is just part of the snowball effect of complex, tricky, expensive and NON comprehensive insurance that was forced onto my mother and 599 other northern Maine elders by a remote, detached, cold hearted and greedy corporation.   Again…Unforgivable.


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  1. Suzan Shinazy
    February 19th, 2014 at 19:07 | #1

    It is abusive. Just think if your mother did not have you helping her, what would she do? Maybe the 30% have no one helping them. Do you think most of them are in their 80-90′s?

  2. Kathy
    February 19th, 2014 at 19:22 | #2

    Yes, almost all of these seniors affected were in their 80s and 90s. We tried really hard..pushed the GP rep to give us a list of those who had not enrolled, but they refused. We could have gotten people in the community and representatives from the Area Agency on Aging to help find them and get them enrolled. My mother absolutely could not have completed this process alone. She would have given up after just a few minutes. These things should not be this complex…and in this case…this change should not have come to these elderly people.

  3. February 20th, 2014 at 13:01 | #3

    Thankfully, all of mom and dad’s paperwork came to me. Would take me too long to go into all the problems I encountered through the entire enrollment process. All these years, I’ve never had to worry about their coverage or paperwork, etc. I haven’t had to deal with anything medical yet but I have with their prescriptions which have jumped drastically. I can’t understand how something that was part of a contract can just be “broken”. There has been such a negative impact on everyone and has made things more difficult and more costly for our elderly parents/relatives not to mention more confusing. How can the Koch family just do this????

  4. Nancy Martin Jamo
    February 20th, 2014 at 14:19 | #4

    My brother helped many people with their policies including our own mother…from what we understood..GP and the Koch brothers fell victim to Obamacare…

  5. Judy Page
    February 20th, 2014 at 17:35 | #5

    A must read if you or someone in your family was affected by the dropping of insurance by GP. I was one of them, after calling the number they gave me and finding that the lady talking to me was more confused than I, I chose to go my own way and went with Aetna. I used to pay $2.00 co pay for my prescriptions now pay $6.00, one was not covered by my insurance and so I told them not to fill it, I also have to pay before going to the doctor and or hospital. Never had to do that before. Feel that all retirees were railroaded.

  6. Kathy
    February 21st, 2014 at 12:39 | #6

    Thank you all for your comments. Nancy, GP and Koch brothers are never victims. The only reason that GP gave for this change, was “we wanted to offer you more choices”. Obamacare was never mentioned as a reason to make this change, because this was a corporate decision. I’m sure the seniors that your brother helped through the process were very grateful…..I am still worried about the ones that still hadn’t signed up in Dec. I’m worried that many fell through the cracks. This was a horrible thing to do to our beloved parents/seniors in the Millinocket region.

  7. Dan Walter
    February 28th, 2014 at 15:40 | #7

    Why are you always picking on the poor Koch brothers?

  8. Pat D ONeill
    March 20th, 2015 at 15:47 | #8

    I have read all of the above, yes things changed,yes most of the retired folks are late 80′s & 90′s they have been retired for 30 plus years. My dad is one. Yes I did and do take care of his insurance for him. Let’s face it change is hard, but they have been collecting for a lot longer then they ever paid in – yes scripts are more but you can be reimbursed for extra meds out of pocket. I’m in Massachusetts dad in Maine and hard of hearing but we manage. I’m very thankful they have insurance, there are many that lost all benefits. Put the call out there again have a meeting in the afternoon arrange for some volunteers to help those that can’t or don’t understand. The Koch brothers are business rich business folks they could of done things so no one would of had anything! Contracts are made to be broken, so let’s go with the flow of change and make the best of things.

  9. Kathy
    March 20th, 2015 at 16:24 | #9

    Pat, perhaps you didn’t get my points in this blog. 1. This was a contracted benefit that the retirees were promised for life when they retired. They sacrificed other things to get these benefits. 2. They cannot be reimbursed for what they pay out of pocket for prescription meds,, but they can for some other eligible medical things. 3. I’m glad that your Dad only has to deal with difficulty hearing, but those who are sick, in nursing homes, alone, struggling with finite resources, who have dementia (like my mother) and so many other issues are struggling a great deal with this unilateral contract breach and the change in their healthcare plans (that these workers earned for themselves and their surviving spouses). 4. We had 2 such meetings already, and it didn’t simplify the process or change one thing. I do not live in Millinocket anymore, but one thing I know is that the seniors are lucky to have Herbie Clark helping them with this process. 5. Please don’t tell me to get with the flow of things when all I do is help people who struggle with healthcare harm, and other medical issues. I do not share your opinion that contracts are made to be broken..and particularly not if it will affect the health and welfare of our beloved elders in my home town…my mother and your Dad being two of them. My opinion is that the Koch industries should have the brand symbol of Scrooge McDuck, because the only thing important to them is making (or stealing) more money, even if it comes from poor old people who struggle to survive on a social security check. What they did is unforgivable.

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