When Kenneth Blair joined the Detroit police force decades ago at age 19, he thought he was signing up for a steady job—and pension and health care benefits for life.
The fate of his pension is still up in the air as Detroit's bankruptcy makes its way through the courts. But Blair's health benefits as he would have known them are already gone.
Blair died in 2004 after serving on the police force for 30 years, and his benefits were transferred to his wife, Cynthia. She received a pension check and was enrolled in the same medical plan offered to current employees of the city of Detroit. For $125 a month, Blair could see almost any doctor she wanted; for $25 more, she got full dental and vision coverage.
But then the city of Detroit decided it wanted to get out of the business of offering retirees health care. Public-employee unions were unable to prevent the change. So in December of last year, Blair and thousands of other retirees got a letter informing them that anyone under 65 "would need to obtain their own health insurance coverage" as of March 1 of this year. It recommended that they check out the health care exchanges set up under Obamacare.
"I was shocked. I still am shocked. I'm still reeling from it," said Blair, 60, who, like many retirees, assumed that the city would continue to offer health care to retirees, since her husband had been promised lifetime health care. "It's such a big amount of money coming out of my pension."