Retirees of Baltimore County Public Schools are still wondering what will happen to their insurance benefits despite promises from the school system to resolve monthslong payment issues by May 1.
Some BCPS retirees noticed health benefits discrepancies following the November 2020 ransomware attack on the school system. Either too much or too little was being taken from their pension checks for insurance, causing some retirees to owe or be owed thousands of dollars.
After the retirees notified the school system and the extent of the problems became clear, BCPS sent letters to retirees last month saying benefits statements detailing how much money they owed or would be refunded would be sent out by April 26. Checks and invoices would be issued no later than May 1.
One day after the projected deadline, retirees are reporting they received checks without explanation, and the amounts they’ve been issued don’t seem to make sense.
Some have been refunded amounts higher than what they’re owed while others received a check when they expected to owe money. Those who received checks said they have no clue what the cost breakdown is and whether they’ll be taxed on this money. Some have yet to receive anything at all.
Charles Herndon, a BCPS spokesman, said in a statement that all retirees who made overpayments were issued refund checks April 28, and BCPS is in the “final stages of account resolution.”
“BCPS is pleased to have met its May 1 deadline of resolving the bulk of its retiree benefits discrepancies arising out of the 2020 ransomware attack,” he said.
In an earlier statement, Herndon said the system has worked “diligently” to resolve retiree benefit concerns and added that there is “no evidence that any personal information of either current or former employees or retirees was compromised or accessed” by the ransomware attack. He said retirees have been offered free credit monitoring similar to current BCPS employees.
But retirees still are questioning their benefits.
“There’s different issues now,” said Angela Leitzer, chairperson for TABCO-R, the retiree division within the Baltimore County teachers union. “We’re seeing issues of the accuracy of these refunds.”
Retired teacher Susan Allen received a check dated April 27 from Baltimore County Public Schools for roughly $8,000, about $3,000 more than she said she’s owed. The check arrived without an explanation, and she said she’s not going to cash it until she gets answers.
She’s been asking the BSPS questions about discrepancies with her health benefits since April 2021. Despite switching plans to pay a lower premium, her pension check still showed the same amount being removed as from her previous insurance plan. Yet, when she or her husband would go to the doctor, they still were asked to fork over a higher copay — one that she said she would be happy to pay as long as her monthly insurance premium wasn’t $400 more than it was supposed to be.
“I’m not cashing this check until I call them and say, ‘Hey, how did you figure this out? When is my regular pension check going to be correct?’” Allen said.
Leitzer said she has not received a check. Rather, after telling BCPS she was talking to The Baltimore Sun on Monday about the ongoing insurance discrepancies, Deputy Superintendent Myriam Yarbrough’s assistant hand-delivered benefits statements for her and her husband, a fellow retiree, on Friday evening.
When Leitzer asked why she was receiving these statements, the assistant replied, “Dr. Yarbrough feels like you’ve been through enough.” The only difference between her and other retirees, Leitzer said, is she’s been upfront about doing interviews with the press.
BCPS denies the assistant said that. Leitzer stands by what she said, describing the conversation as “brief, but memorable.”
The hand-delivered document told Leitzer to report any discrepancies to the BCPS benefits office by May 13.
Leitzer said she’s compiling status updates from TABCO-R members, but there’s no way for her to know who has received what. She said many retirees remain unaccounted for. Since the retirees organized within TABCO starting in 2014, there are retirees who are not connected with the union and therefore have not been in the loop for communications on the insurance issues.
BCPS retiree Cynthia North said communication from BCPS about insurance discrepancies has been lacking since before the cyberattack.
When the system was attacked, North said, retirees did not realize how they would be impacted by the data breach. She only found out about incorrect insurance payments in her pension check because Allen told her about her own problems.
“She called me and said, ‘Check your pension statement. Check last year’s pension statement. Check the year before,’” North said. “And I did, and I noticed that mine hadn’t changed either.”
North said she has not received a benefits statement or a check.
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Leitzer said she started getting messages in January this year from retirees noticing patterns of incorrect amounts being taken out of their pension checks for insurance. Leitzer said BCPS knew of the issues but did not inform retirees.
When BCPS Superintendent Darryl L. Williams recently went on WYPR, Baltimore’s NPR station, for an interview, Leitzer said she wrote in to ask what Williams planned to do about the insurance discrepancies. She said that was the first time retirees heard that BCPS had hired a contractor to deal with the issue.
“There was no outreach to retirees prior to that saying, ‘We know there’s a problem. We’re working on it,’” Leitzer said. “All of a sudden on the radio, we hear that they’ve hired a contractor.”
Leitzer also questioned BCPS’s assertation that no retiree information was compromised.
“There are instances, and so I don’t know why they’re saying that there aren’t,” Leitzer said.
Leitzer has brought such concerns to Yarbrough’s attention previously, she said. However, Leitzer wonders what the follow-through will be for the system’s more than 9,000 retirees.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” North said. “We’ve gone through almost two years of this, and there is still so much confusion.”