Thursday, May 19, 2005

Retirement counseling grows at Los Alamos National Laboratory

KSFR 90.7 FM

Retirement counseling grows at Los Alamos National Laboratory

By Bill Dupuy

SANTA FE (2005-05-19) -- The line of people wanting to know about their
Los Alamos National Laboratory retirement benefits has just gotten longer.

Seventy-two people are on a waiting list for retirement counseling after a
special three-day series of sessions was announced earlier this week.
Laboratory spokesman James Rickman says the 144 appointment-availabilities
in those sessions were filled within 24 hours of the announcement that
they would be offered.

A team of eight human resources counselors from the University of
California will travel to Los Alamos in June to assist the six LANL
retirement counselors. Rickman says the laboratory is studying whether it
can add at least 50 more counseling sessions to the schedule, set for June

Retirement counseling previously was offered only when employees called
the Human Resources Department to make individual appointments. Rickman
says they set up the special counseling sessions based on the numbers of
people wanting to know about their benefits.

Eligible for retirement under the University of California plan are
employees who are at least 50 years old with more than five years of

KSFR reported in March that the projection for LANL retirements for the
fiscal year ending in October is 50 percent greater than the prior year
and 60 percent more than the year before that. Rickman says that
projection will not be updated until June. If the projection becomes
reality, 379 UC employees at the lab will retire this year. That compares
with actual retirements of 251 in 2004 and 235 in 2003.

Rickman confirms one factor leading to the increased interest in the
retirement-counseling sessions is uncertainty over the lab's contract. He
says another factor may be curiosity. This is the first time lab officials
have been able to project retirement benefits beyond a 90-day period.

I would probably lean toward the option where I can become an inactive UCRP member, transfer my sick and vacation acrual rate but start clean with the new contractors pension plan. The only question is that of a medical plan when I finally retire. With UC as it is now you only receive medical if you retire not it you become inactive and receive retirement at a later date. I am sure with the new contract the medical benefits will be graduated as they are now for new employees. 5 years/retire the present system only pays for 40% of the premium, at 10 its only 60%, I am guessing at the figures but its something like that. I think the NNSA really listened and tried to accomodate employees concerns. I say kudos to Tyler of the NNSA.
One of the key documents people should be reading from the Final RFP is
entitled "Section B to H". There, you will find the following at the

(i) Post Retirement Benefits

(1) The Contractor shall become the sponsor and be responsible for management
and administration of a retiree medical benefit plan that will provide medical
insurance benefits (including dental) substantially equivalent to those
provided by the predecessor contractor to individuals who meet eligibility
requirements under the plan and who retired from employment at LANL with
the predecessor contractor prior to June 1, 2006. The Contracting Officer
will determine substantial equivalency by comparing the Contractor’s retiree
medical benefit plan with the benefits provided by the predecessor contractor.

If I interpret this correctly, it means that CURRENT retirees are going
to be covered by the new Contractor's medical benefit plan. If you are
currently retirees under UC, your provider of medical benefits will change!

Since medical benefits, unlike the pension, are not a guaranteed item, I
can see how this might legally happen. It has frequently happened with
take-overs in the corporate world. I just can't understand why DOE
would want to force this on the current retirees. It certainly adds
some risks to their future coverage, as DOE will be micro-managing the
new benefits package. They couldn't touch the previous UC benefits, try
as they might.

Perhaps this section is just a typo by DOE, but it definitely bares some
further questioning. If I was a current retiree, I would be very worried
about the wording of this section in the RFP. You future medical benefits
could be liable to the whims of DOE.
DOE was actually trying to help LANL retirees here- If UC was forced to keep them (without the LANL contract) it was going to put them in their own risk pool. As they get older, sicker and fewer in number, their costs would go through the roof. Plus they would soon be forced to take out-of-area coverage, since UC is in California.

Therefore, NNSA said it chose to have the retiree health care go with the new contractor, to keep a mix of ages in the risk pool.
UC mitigates any problems by having LANL retirees in their huge UC pool.
From an actuarial stand point, it would then have little ill effect on UC
if they kept the LANL retirees under their present medical benefit coverage.
So, are you saying that UC isn't all that benign when it comes to their
staff who have served then well over many, many years? Or is this a
sinister move by DOE to control future medical benefits. Something doesn't
smell right on this one. I would much prefer to be under the vast UC pool
when I retire than under a system in which DOE can make the decisions and
the pool is filled with a high number of older people (i.e., expensive
health care consumers). Furthermore, the small and select nature of
this new pool will insure that it has no political power to contest future
changes in retiree medical benefits that DOE may desire to implement.
I find it cruel for DOE to be doing this to our retirees from LANL. I
doubt many of them even know what is about to happen to their rock-solid
UC-sponsored medical benefits. I wonder what UC has to say about this
particular RFP clause?
Corporate America is dropping retiree medical benefits in droves. If
DOE uses "market comparison" studies to determine future benefits (as they
say they will), then the comparables will probably result in a drastic
reduction in the medical benefits for current retirees at some future date.
This should be an area of great concern in the RFP.
Was this provision for retiree medical benefits stated in the RFP draft? I don't recall it. It's wrong if comment was not allowed on this.
I, too, never recalled this clause being in the previous RFPs. It looks
like DOE may have slipped this one in on the final round, perhaps so they
could ensure there would be no chance for public comment. If so, then
that's an indicator of just how trust-worthy DOE may be in the handling
of LANL's future pension and benefits. It's not a good sign.
No DOE said this all along. The retiree risk pool is to be bundled with LANL regular employees, and UC did not want the NM retirees in their pool without the LANL contract.

Think about this- UC agrees to take an aging pool of people just as they are getting expensive, when it can legally give them back to DOE?? They are not crazy...

It was explained at the town hall meeting mid-Jan. when Tyler P. came to Los Alamos. You must haave missed the info.
Perhaps it was mentioned verbally at some previous meeting by DOE, but why
was it left out of the RFP until the final RFP was released?
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