June 14, 2023

Building blocks

I never thought I’d come out of retirement to write another UA post, but here we are.
So I was trying to find out the name of the speaker at yesterday’s Zoom meeting for retirees on the new Aetna PPO. It had been mentioned early on, but I thought I wouldn't need it and hadn't written it down.  

But a question came up in the last half hour, and the speaker told us to contact her if we knew a case where a drug would cost more in the new SilverScript plan than what we pay for it now in Express Scripts. She would bring it up with the plan's actuaries, which was quite frankly more than I expected. 

As it happens, I did have a good example for her. A 60-day supply of the generic for Restasis eye drops cost me last week $7.50 – even cheaper than what I remembered from the last time I bought it. The same generic on the Aetna hotline (1-855-648-0389) was priced at $386.41 for a 90-day supply. Now, if only I could find that lady to let her know . . .

I called the UFT main switchboard, who put me through to someone who didn't know. I was transferred (or referred) to various other extensions in an order I can't remember now, but one was the retiree chapter (who told me specifically and unbelievably that the director "didn't know" who the speaker was), the automatic "forms" line of the Welfare Fund (idiotic), the Welfare Fund live person, the Aetna hotline (I knew that wouldn't work, because though the speaker was an Aetna rep, she was talking at a UFT meeting), and back to the UFT retiree programs.  From this last nice person, I did get the first name of the speaker, but that was it. Called Aetna again, and though they couldn't help me with finding the person I was looking for, the service person was equally shocked at the price discrepancy between the two companies and said she would escalate my question northward, someone would get back to me.

I then decided that the UFT needed to know about this unnecessary run-around, so I tried to find an email address for Tom Murphy, which is not on the website (or again: not obviously on the website) and the people at healthbenefithelp@uftwf.org. But I did find Tom's email in some old correspondence and wrote the following (some typos corrected):
Dear Mr. Murphy,
The retirees attended a Zoom meeting yesterday, June 13.
One of the two speakers on the new Aetna plan was Dr. Serrano.
There was another lady who did most of the explanations, worked for Aetna: I think her first name was Sabrina, but nobody at the UFT knew her last name when I called this morning.  Unbelievable.

She specifically said to contact her if we knew of drug that we cost MORE in SilverScript than it costs currently in Express Scripts. She would want to let their actuaries know if it needs a new pricing.

[gave them the pricing of the drug in both plans....]
My drug . . . will cost more in SilverScripts, but I don’t know how to tell her this because I’ve made 6 calls to the union today (kept being transferred, dead-end everywhere, and one to Aetna helpline) and nobody seems to know who the speaker was at yesterday’s general meeting — nor how to report this difference in pricing. 

I find this union obfuscation/resistance/ignorance pretty disgraceful, that no one could tell me who spoke at a Zoom meeting that you said had more than 3000 attendees.  
And nobody can tell me how to report this pricing discrepancy to this lady?
His pretty quick response was nevertheless strange:
Sorry you see the worst motives rather than the best in people. Her name was announced several times and her contact information was posted there and on our website. 
I am forwarding your messages to her.
In solidarity,
Tom Murphy
Anyone who knows me knows I couldn’t let this go unanswered. 

Explaining in my next email that the speaker's name was not mentioned in the last half hour of the meeting when I needed it, that I had made many phone calls and checked several webpages on the UFT site to find it, and that my purpose – and here's the main thing – was not only to have her look into the pricing of that popular drug, but to circulate my notes from the meeting to my union friends and the Medicare counselors I work with through Westchester County and the library system (see https://seniors.westchesterlibraries.org/senior-benefits/ and http://seniors.westchesterlibraries.org/demystifyingmedicare/), I concluded the exact opposite and told him so: 
It is YOU who were looking for bad motives, not me. My question for the speaker (which nobody on the 6 phone calls could help me with) and the hours I put into getting these updates to people who need them are signs of dedication and helpfulness. Not a bad motive in sight. 

If union leadership objects to the words "obfuscation," "resistance," and "ignorance," they can do something about it. 

Direct our phone calls to the right department. Don't throw us off to an outside entity when a question about a UFT Zoom meeting has nothing to do with them. Put some more contact and program information on your website, or fix your search engine to be able to find things. Circulate your own notes from the meeting. And for heaven's sake, don't project on me the bad feelings you're harboring against us pesky retirees.

The building blocks are in your hands, not ours.  


  1. I have had similar and WORSE experiences trying to get help from the UFT with regard to questions I had about my “lump sum” payment when I retired two years ago. It took me 6 months to get some help answering a legitimate question. The DOE was impossible too!

  2. Julie W. (new email)June 16, 2023 at 10:37 AM

    I don't remember having this trouble before, but I never asked an unusual question like this one. Norm reminded me of the firing of phone staff and shift to Salesforce. See his link https://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/2022/01/uft-outsourcing-to-salesforce-update.html.