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Retirees worry about prescription benefits



Published: Fri, February 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



For LTV retirees with high medical costs, options are limited.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

STRUTHERS -- Joseph Pompeo came to a meeting of LTV Corp. retirees with a question.

When his LTV insurance is canceled, how is he going to afford $2,000 a month for medicine he has to take for hepatitis?

He left without any answers.

"There is no good solution," said Mike Rubicz, president of Steelworkers Local 1375.

Union officials said a company fund paying for retirees' health care is running out of money faster than projected because more workers have retired. It only has about two or three months left.

Retirees won't be able to continue their current insurance at their own expense under the federal COBRA law, officials said. That only applies when a company is continuing to operate, and LTV is liquidating the company.

No coverage: Pompeo turns 65 in May and would be covered by Medicare, but the government program won't cover his prescriptions.

"Who will?" he asked union officials at the meeting Thursday at a United Steelworkers of America hall in Struthers.

Maybe no one, Rubicz said.

Many retirees will be able to buy supplemental Medicare coverage, but probably not someone with a $2,000-a-month drug cost, he said.

Insurance companies are in the business to make money, so none will pay drug costs that high for a premium of $300 or $400 a month, he said.

"I don't know what I'm going to do. It stinks," said Pompeo, 64, of Poland.

He said the best suggestion he got was from a fellow retiree who told him to make payments to the drug company and send it $1 a month.

Pompeo has to take the medicine until December to cleanse his blood. He found out recently he that ailments he has been suffering from have been caused by hepatitis, which he figures he got from tainted blood during an operation in 1978.

Ron Seybert, 66, of New Springfield, has high prescription costs, too.

He said he thinks he can find supplemental Medicare coverage for about $50 a month more than the $268 that was being deducted from his LTV pension for health insurance. The benefits won't be as good, however, because there will be higher deductibles and lower amounts that will be paid.

And he's not sure he and his wife will be accepted into a plan. Their medication costs more than $1,000 a month for various ailments.

Some suggestions: Union officials told the retirees to start shopping around and ask their doctors about generic drugs. Some retirees talked about buying medication from Canadian companies, either in person or through the mail, to save money.

Union officials also asked the retirees to become involved in lobbying efforts to ask Congress to pick up the health care of retirees in the steel industry. They were asked to write letters, join in protests being organized by the union and talk about the issue in the community.

Union officials said the letter-writing campaign is a first step in putting pressure on Congress. They also intend to put together videos of workers' stories and protest in Washington, D.C.

shilling@vindy.com




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