Oct 28, 2013 7:52 PM
Producer's note: This story has been updated with input from AT&T.
CORPUS CHRISTI - Some local retirees are feeling the pinch if communications giant AT&T goes ahead with a plan to quadruple health insurance premiums.
Gary Shelton is not complaining. He earned a comfortable living selling AT&T Yellowpages ads for almost 30 years. Shelton did it so well, he made enough to buy a home on the city's southside home, earned a ring as a top earner and received a nice watch when he retired in 2007.
So, it's not surprising he's frustrated the company he served for so long is about to price him and his wife out of their health benefits.
Shelton said he received a benefits book and a letter in the mail a couple of weeks ago. He was alarmed to learn his monthly premium is about to skyrocket from $90 to more than $350, starting January 1st.
He called AT&T to get answers only to land in a queue for those looking to opt-out of AT&T benefits and sign up under the Affordable Care Act.
"I asked the girl, 'Are you with AT&T? She says 'No we're with the Affordable Care system.' So they're trying to get people passed on to the Affordable Care system to get them off their records," Shelton told us.
Company spokesman Mark Richter said AT&T will in 2015 introduce a private health care exchange for Medicare-eligible retirees, partially funded by the company.
The exchange will give retirees access to a wider range of choices, he said.
"We continue to provide some of the best retiree health care coverage in America, and we continue to subsidize it at a rate that is greater than the vast majority of other companies," Richter said. "We're proud to be one of only 28 percent of large employers to provide retiree health care and, in fact, in 2012 alone we provided $4.4 billion related to medical and prescription drug benefits."
Kristi Veit is both a 15 year AT&T employee and president of the local chapter of Communications Workers of America.
She told KRIS 6 Investigates even though she's not yet heard of retirees being sent to the exchanges, the union is hoping the company, which annually posts billions in profits, will come to the table and find a solution for the people who helped build it.
"Retirees are very concerned about the rate increases. Remember AT&T has to want according to federal labor law AT&T has to want to negotiate with CWA about retirees healthcare and pensions. And they have refused to do that at this point. They have simply just announced the cost increase and it is very difficult for our retirees. Cause some of the increase will wipe out an entire months of a retirees pension check,"Veit told us.
But for Shelton, who said he'd be willing to pay more for his insurance, January 1st is fast approaching and he's frustrated. He says poor communication is not what he's come to expect from AT&T.
"$150 would be fine. Just not a four time increase. They did it because they thought they could do it," Shelton said.
KRIS 6 Investigates reached out to AT&T's corporate offices, but we have not heard back from them. We did browse the federal healthcare website for ourselves and found that just a basic, two-member health policy in Nueces County starts at $305 a month.
So it looks like some of our retirees may be faced with some tough choices next year if they don't want to join the growing number of uninsured already living in the Coastal Bend.