January 2019 held a lot of fear for me and many other Maryland State Retirees. This is when all state retirees who are disabled or over 65 would have had to go onto Medicare Part D.
In 2011, State of Maryland passed a law eliminating prescription drug coverage in 2019. The problem was they didn’t tell anyone (especially the state retirees) until seven years later. To combat the removal to Medicare Part D, I created a Facebook page called, We Matter RXdrug Coverage. It chronicled my efforts to deal with this injustice.
I contacted every lawmaker in the General Assembly requesting a special session. I attended town hall meetings, senior center meetings, and campaign events to bring this issue to the forefront. I even had a teleconference with the governor’s chief of staff in my efforts to reinstate the coverage. At that conference, the governor’s office was only interested in transition all seniors to Medicare and was not looking to reinstate.
Two lawyers, Deborah Hill and Breon Johnson, came aboard. Despite pronouncements from several sources stating that the state retirees did not have a case, the lawyers fashioned a litigation strategy that could give us a chance to achieve our goal of reinstatement.
I agreed to be a plaintiff and the case was filed in Baltimore City against the State of Maryland, the governor of Maryland, and the secretary of budget and management. The state removed the case to federal court and the attorneys argued for an injunction and miracles of miracles our request was granted!
As long as this case is pending, the state cannot force any state retiree onto Medicare Part D. It was a sweet victory. During this time, my will to fight was strong, however, my body was not. I lay in the hospital for five weeks. I had total kidney failure.
It was a highlight of my life to inform the members of We Matter that the Court had granted an injunction from my hospital bed. Parents raise their children telling them not to lie, not to cheat, not to steal. It will be hard in the future to say that with a straight face if you are living in the state of Maryland.
In fact, it appears that the General Assembly has reinstated the death penalty when they decided to drop prescription drug coverage for state retirees. The only crime committed by state retirees was the crime of getting in the way of the state’s search for revenue.
Now state retirees are placed in an untenable situation where the lack of medicine will result in their death. Literally. If some state retirees do not get the prescriptions needed to control their illness, they will die. I know – I am one of them.
I, like other state retirees, accepted a job that paid lower than the private sector because of the state promises of health and prescription benefits. We vested and paid into our retirement accounts during furlough days, salary freezes and 40-hour work weeks, to ensure that we would have the security of health benefits in our retirement years.
As a retiree, my income expenditures were planned prior to my retirement, so the thousands of dollars of unexpected costs for drugs I need to keep me alive means that I will need to choose between medication and food. I can only choose one.
Balancing the budget should not be more important than people’s lives. The 2011 legislation attacked its most vulnerable citizens and the 2018 legislature compounded this by moving the start date from June 2019 to January 2010.
To the General Assembly, I say that we are your fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, we are your neighbors, and we are members of your church and more importantly, We Matter.
Ken Fitch is a Baltimore County resident who retired in 2012 from the Department of General Services. He is the lead plaintiff on Fitch vs. the State of Maryland.