Free health care clinic for city employees, retirees proposed - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Free health care clinic for city employees, retirees proposed

It was a full house in the Memphis City Council committee conference room Tuesday morning, as citizens showed up to share their concerns and offer up ideas. (Source: WMC Action News 5) It was a full house in the Memphis City Council committee conference room Tuesday morning, as citizens showed up to share their concerns and offer up ideas. (Source: WMC Action News 5)

(WMC) - Rallies were held outside Memphis City Hall on Tuesday while hot topics were debated inside by the city council.

The latest proposal from the city? A no-cost, 40 hour health care clinic for city employees and retirees. Union leaders say they are blind sided by the entire proposal.

City administrators told Memphis City Council that no employee or retiree will be left without health care as the city plans to partner with Cigna and Methodist Le Bonheur to open a wellness clinic.

"It's your clinic. You're not sharing it with the general public," David Smith, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare said. "It's specifically for your associates, retirees, and their independents at no cost at all out of their pocket."

Union leaders say out of months of discussions, this is the first they have heard of a free clinic. They have more questions than answers.

"How come all of a that couldn't have been worked out prior to us kicking the retirees out of the health care system? Wouldn't that have driven the cost down?" Memphis Police Association President Michael Williams said.

"I'm just ... I don't want to say what I really am. I'm just kind of mystified,"  Memphis Fire Fighters Association President Tommy Malone said. "Everybody says, 'Oh man, how great. We gonna put a clinic together, give something free to the employees and everything's great.' I don't think it really happens that easy."

Memphis City Council needs more answers, too. It debated the proposal in committee for more than one hour. If the proposal passes the city council, the clinic would open October 1 at 1803 Union Avenue.

Public input

The city council opened up its meeting, asking citizens to weigh in on the issues the city is facing. In response, hundreds of protesters packed city hall.

Tuesday was the last day on the job for Memphis firefighter Steve Walker. After three years in the DROP program, he now has no idea what his future holds.

"My father's retired; I've got two uncles retired, cousins on the job," he said. "We've got over 135 years just in my family on the fire department, from 75 years old all the way down. And you know, I feel like it's something to be fighting for."

Perhaps the most impactful comments came from neither a police officer nor firefighter.

"I am just a retiree from the City of Memphis," said Jan Long of Lakeland, Tenn. "I worked for this city council for 18 years, and I respected you and loved it, but I can't believe what y'all have done. I really can't.

Barbara Hall sent a letter to the city. Her late husband, Sammy, spent 33 years with Memphis Fire Department.

"He left me taken care of, we thought. And if he was alive right now, he would be so sad," said Hall, who is on her late husband's benefits. She worries she will be left to live on only $98 per month.

"We asked them to come up here and serve and represent them, and if we get insulted by that, that's our fault," said Memphis City Councilman Harold Collins.

Mayor talks city council developments

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton addressed the media regarding the city council's meeting Tuesday, particularly to discuss budget cuts.

He repeated often that he wished there was a easier option when it came to slashing health care that pushed a 24 percent hike in premiums for city employees and left retirees paying 100 percent of their premiums.

"I have a state law I have to comply with, nobody ever promised it would be painless to do that. I didn't write the law," Wharton said. "We're just like everybody else. We're caught up in it. I've got the mandate. I happen to be the mayor. The council happens to be the council. We're the ones who have to make the decisions."

At one point last week, 500 officers, nearly a quarter of the police force, were out, in what many called a silent demonstration referred to as "Blue Flu." A similar, smaller sickout seemed to be underway with firefighters.

Wharton says he understands the support behind these public servants, and he says he is working to build trust and find a solution.

WMC Action News 5's Jason Miles is still at the Memphis City Council meeting. He will have the very latest on the discussions on WMC Action News 5 at 10 p.m.

Copyright 2014 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.

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