The Independent, Oct. 6, 2011


Lab sets Open Enrollment Meetings; No Briefings


            Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has scheduled public "Open Enrollment" meetings in Livermore and Tracy on November 9 and 10 so that retirees who are able to attend can learn about its 2012 medical insurance programs. 

            The November 9 public meeting will be held at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore at a time to be announced.  The November 10 meeting will be held in Tracy at a place and time to be announced.  The Laboratory will also send printed booklets and other material to retiree homes. 

            At the same time, the Laboratory declined for the first time to brief its Retiree Association, which in the past has helped provide information and assistance to members who live too far away or are too unhealthy to travel to local meetings.

            It has also advised the Association that it will not even answer questions about health care programs following the public meetings.  If retirees are confused about medical benefits or how to sign up for or change programs, according to emails from the Laboratory, they will have to ask one of the organizations that administers the programs, Aon Hewitt or Extend Health.

            For years, at the Retiree Association's October luncheon meeting, the Laboratory has provided speakers to summarize changes in the coming year's health plans and details of how to renew or change plans.  Recognizing the Association's role in keeping retirees informed, it encouraged those approaching retirement to consider joining the organization in order to stay abreast of health program developments.     

            Retirees say that the Laboratory's new position has contributed to the sense among many retirees that the Laboratory's new contract manager, a for-profit consortium that took over from the University of California in 2008, has turned its back on them. 

            The consortium, called Lawrence Livermore National Security, offers medical insurance that is consistent with industrial standards, which the retirees find more complicated, less reliable and in many cases more expensive than the UC system they formerly belonged to. 

            Part of the retiree disenchantment with the system is the remoteness of the health program administrators, Aon Hewitt and Extend Health, which handle health plans from many companies around the U.S. and often can't distinguish the former employees of a national defense laboratory from retirees of a company that sells car parts.

            Learning that they will now have to get further information from these administrators instead of being helped by the Laboratory where they once worked seems like adding insult to injury.

            Whether the University's health programs continue to seem attractive by comparison to the consortium's is an open question.  According to new reports, the University's budget is under pressure.  UC health benefits may b among the programs that will suffer.