By Sean Barron
BOARDMAN — For the past 10 years, Chuck Nelson has enjoyed retirement and paying very little for his health insurance.
Soon, however, that could change.
“I was under the belief that I would retire with benefits. Now, it seems things are being taken off of us,” said Nelson, 70, who had worked 25 years as a production worker for General Motors Corp. before retiring in December 1999.
Nelson was one of more than 100 people at a meeting Wednesday hosted by former U.S. Rep. James Traficant at the Holiday Inn here. Many were hourly Delphi retirees concerned about a switch from comprehensive health-care coverage to a new catastrophic plan, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, or about losing coverage altogether.
The majority of retirees hopes to keep their current plan or have something better than the catastrophic one. Out-of-pocket annual maximums under the new plan would be $3,500 for a single beneficiary and $7,000 for a family.
Nelson, of Boardman, expressed concerns about losing his health-care insurance by year’s end, adding that he’s also worried about his wife’s having a pre-existing condition with few or no benefits to pay for her medical needs.
“I can’t afford to pay $7,000 to $8,000 for insurance we now have for nothing,” he added.
“I’m a two-time cancer survivor and will get nailed with medical bills,” said Linda Fanfer of Boardman, one of three retirees who organized the meeting. “It’s going to cost me a fortune.”
Fanfer, chairwoman of the GM-Delphi Hourly Retirees USA Fight Back committee, decried what she said was the lack of local union representation for Delphi retirees.
In addition, she continued, some people on Medicare will lose their secondary insurance and have to buy their own at great expense.
While not offering a specific plan, Traficant urged his audience to join forces with retirees from other companies as well as salaried workers to respond with a strong, unified and collective voice. The issue regarding Delphi retirees has been addressed but must be resolved, he said.
“If it’s not a marriage, at least let it be a shotgun wedding. Join forces,” Traficant said, referring to collaborating with former LTV Steel and other retirees.
The ousted 17th District congressman, who recently was released from federal prison after serving seven years for various corruption crimes, also implored the Delphi retirees to have clear goals and be strong and assertive when approaching their elected officials.
“Come together and work with Congress and push them to make you whole,” he said.
About $800 billion has been spent to bail out financially unstable banks, $7 billion of which could have gone toward helping Delphi, he continued.
Several people shared their situations or asked questions of Traficant, including one man who expressed resentment about having worked 37 years for Packard Electric only to see many jobs being sent overseas and losing much of what he had.
Another man said he pays about $1,600 per month for health insurance and that his wife requires chemotherapy. After Jan. 1, though, she might not be able to afford it, he said.
A former 35-year Packard employee echoed Traficant’s stand, saying everyone should band together and that many retirees from his company are in the same situation as the hourly Delphi workers.
“If management treated workers right, we wouldn’t need unions,” Nelson said during the meeting. “Nobody’s better than anyone else.”