4th Quarter 2015 Benefits Corner


By Al Horan

Al Horan Captioned Q2 2015Our Chevron Health Care Plans

Well, it’s that time of year again – Open Enrollment for 2016 is just around the corner. Open Enrollment for Chevron’s Medical and Dental Plans will take place between October 19 and October 30. The Open Enrollment packages will be mailed to eligible retirees between September 25 and October 2. If you feel that you are eligible to join a Chevron plan and you have not received your package by October 13, you should phone the Chevron HR Service Center at 1-888-825-5247. Their hours are 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific time (8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central time), Monday through Friday.

It’s my understanding that we will probably only see minor changes in plan coverage. The premiums for 2016 will be a direct reflection of claims experience over the prior year. If anyone wishes to peek at the plan changes before they receive their package, they should visit the Chevron Retiree Benefits website (hr2.chevron.com/retiree).

As we draw closer to the commencement of Open Enrollment, the CRA Benefits Committee will be making available supplemental material to assist you in deciding which coverage to choose for 2016. However, don’t forget, if you are satisfied with your current coverage, you need not take any action. Chevron will automatically enroll you and your eligible dependents in the same plan(s) for 2016. (Just a reminder, the Chevron Dental Plans are only available to Chevron legacy retirees. Non-Chevron legacy retirees are eligible to join a CRA Dental Plan.)

In deciding which plan to join for 2016, you may wish to consider the following: (a) the state of each participant’s health, (b) the amount of medical care received over the last 12 months, (c) any anticipated medical care that is expected to be received in 2016, and (d) each participant’s age since there is a greater chance of unexpected medical problems at advanced ages. In doing your review you may wish to consider that, to the extent you are eligible, Chevron’s Medicare Plus Plan provides the maximum level of benefits for Medicare participants and Chevron’s Option 1 Plan provides the maximum level of benefits for non-Medicare participants. (These two plans also have higher premiums than the other Chevron plan options.) Chevron mentioned that during Open Enrollment generally only a small percentage of participants change their coverage. If you decide that you are satisfied with your existing coverage you need not do anything. Just a word of caution…Any eligible non-Medicare retiree who considers enrolling in PPO Option 3 should remember that the high deductible applies to all medical costs, including prescription drugs. Lastly, if you haven’t already done so we strongly encourage you to make arrangements with the Chevron HR Service Center to have your monthly premiums automatically deducted from your bank account.

For Chevron non-Medicare retirees, an Insurance Exchange is an alternative way of purchasing health insurance for themselves and their eligible dependents. If coverage is purchased through an Exchange, Chevron will not contribute towards the cost of the insurance. Also, they may not cover their eligible dependents under a Chevron Plan while they are covered by another health insurance plan. However, the retiree should be able to re-enroll in a Chevron Plan during a future Open Enrollment period.  Finally, if the retiree should die while covered by a plan purchased through the Exchange, their dependents will not be able to rejoin a Chevron Plan. For information about the availability of health insurance through an Exchange, please phone the Health Insurance Marketplace. Their phone number is 1-800-318-2596 and they may be reached 24/7.

No matter if a Chevron plan is elected or coverage is purchased elsewhere, it is in everyone’s best interest to be prudent in choosing medical care since our decisions have a direct impact on medical costs and our contributions/premiums. In part, rising medical costs can be attributed to an increase in demand for medical care while the supply side of the equation has not kept pace. Mark Engelbrecht, who is a Member of the CRA Benefits Committee, points out that:

  • There is a shortage of doctors.The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts that by 2025 the U.S. will face a shortage of between 45,000 and 90,000 physicians, including shortages in primary care physicians and, especially, specialty care. There are many reasons for increased physician demand, including the escalating health care needs of a growing population of senior citizens and the full implementation of Healthcare Reform.There are also supply issues because more than 25% of doctors over the age of 60 are expected to retire in the next decade.
  • There is also a shortage of nurses.According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurse (RN) is listed among the top occupations of job growth through 2022.Between job growth and replacement of retiring RNs, the total number of job openings to fill the gap will be 1.05 million by 2022.
  • Foreign-trained doctors fill the gap. Today, about one in four physicians in the U.S. was trained abroad. For years, the U.S. has had industry-set limits on the number of U.S. medical school slots available.And even though they are well trained, immigrant doctors have a long and costly process to be able to practice in the U.S.
  • We shouldn’t look to Millennials for sympathy or more financial support. Millennials will be burdened with funding deficiencies in Social Security and the growing federal debt.
  • Retiree medical costs will continue to rise. Many workers who have inadequate retirement savings will face the added burden of rising medical costs.
  • We will see RN’s, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, etc. play an ever-increasing role in the treatment and care of patients. It could get to a point where physicians will only see patients with complicated medical issues.

How are/can these problems being addressed?

  • U.S. health care is now focusing more on prevention, which should impact health care demand.
  • There are bills in Congress to increase doctor residency slots. Because doctor training can take up to a decade, a physician shortage in 2025 needs to be addressed now.
  • Possibly ease the restrictions of foreign doctors to work in the U.S.
  • We may see an increase in foreign travel for certain forms of medical treatment.
  • We may see a greater use of telemedicine (e.g. Skype). A physician’s office would be contacted through Skype or similar application and obtain a diagnosis and advice for treatment of a condition, including a prescription. Many states in the U.S. allow such telemedicine services, but some prohibit covering urgent care outside a medical facility.

As you can see from Mark’s research, we will be facing rising medical costs for the foreseeable future. Economists predict that over the next decade medical costs will grow at an annual rate of 5.8%. In contrast, medical costs increased approximately 4.0% per annum between 2008 and 2013. The difference in annual growth represents a 45% jump in the rate of increase for the next 10 years. However, if we compare the aggregate compounded increase for the five year period between 2008 and 2013 to the projected aggregate compounded increase for the next five years, the results are startling (i.e. 22% vs 33%). Currently, health care accounts for roughly $1 of every $6 spent in the United States. (This is about double what is spent by other developed countries.) Unless there is a change in spending on health care, the ratio will change to $1 of every $5 spent by 2024. Economists guesstimate that last year the nation spent $3.1 trillion on health care. If we extrapolate this figure using an annual increase of 5.8%, the $3.1 trillion becomes $3.3 trillion. The difference in annual growth between a 4% increase and a 5.8% increase is roughly $60 billion per annum. I find these numbers startling.

What can be done about this problem? I’m sure that by now you’re saying to yourself, he’s at it again. Unfortunately, rising medical costs are important to all of us since we are the ones who ultimately drive medical usage. Very simply, medical care is a commodity that is affected by supply and demand. Given the aging population of the U.S., the general state of our health, and the ever-increasing demand for expensive medical care, we’re looking at a perfect storm. Anyone who feels that they’re insulated from rising costs because they have insurance is only fooling himself/herself. Insurance companies pass the increased costs to the insured in the form of increased premiums and/or increased deductibles or coinsurance payments. There aren’t any free lunches.

If we were all healthy, there would be little need to see a doctor other than for an annual wellness examination. However, this is not the real world. As we heard from Dr. Wiechers of United Healthcare we are all captains of our medical fate. Our lifestyles affect roughly 50% of our health. The other 50% is influenced by things such as genetics. Self-motivation is critical in determining whether we stay healthy or if we need to become healthy. As we are all aware, diet and exercise are two key components of good health. It behooves us to take control of our lives by maintaining a healthy diet and by exercising regularly. For helpful hints on maintaining or improving your health, please be sure to visit United Healthcare’s website (www.myuhc.com) and take the Rally survey to get a measure of your overall health and helpful hints for improving your health.

Tips and Helpful Information

I would like to share with you the following tips and helpful information.

United Healthcare – Chevron Medical Plans: Am I Barred from Continuing to See a Health Provider Who is No Longer Part of UHC’s PPO Network? Occasionally I am contacted by members asking for help with a letter they received from UHC advising that a medical provider will no longer be a Preferred Provider. The primary concern is that they will not be able to continue to use the medical provider. UHC sends a letter to everyone who was seen by the provider. They do not differentiate between Medicare and non-Medicare plan participants. However, the notices do not apply to anyone who is covered by Medicare. In the case of non-Medicare plan participants, they can continue to see the provider but the claim will be processed as an out of network provider by UHC. This should result in a larger co-payment by the participant.

United Healthcare – How Safe is Your Hospital? Some hospitals consider patient safety their top priority. They typically have strong medical teams that work together to reduce infection rates, prevent mistakes, and ensure strong lines of communications between the hospital staff, patients and families. Then, there are hospitals that have dysfunctional teams that can cause unsafe conditions for patients. Hospital errors result in:

  • 440,000 patient deaths annually
  • 1 out of 25 patients developing an infection
  • Medicare patients having a 1 in 4 chance of experiencing an injury, harm or death

Sadly, most hospital errors can be prevented. To find out about the safety record of hospitals in the area where you live, please visit www.hospitalsafetyscore.org.

How Can Drug Costs Be Reduced? As we are aware the aging of America and advances in medicine are causing a rapid increase in medical costs, especially drug costs. Even if an individual has medical insurance, the rising costs are being passed along to the individual in the form of increased premiums. Here are some ideas for reducing drug costs:

  • Ask your doctor: if a genetic form of medication is available; if an over-the-counter alternative is available; for a free sample; or for a 14 day supply of a new drug while you are evaluating its effectiveness.
  • Ask your pharmacist if your drug is on a deep-discount generics list.
  • Ask your insurer if your drug is on their approved list. If it is not, ask your doctor to help with an appeal.

(Source for this information: Frank Lalli, the Health Care Detective)

Blood Pressure – How low should it be? Blood pressure medicine is prescribed to lower blood pressure to ward off heart attacks, strokes and deaths. There is a debate in the medical community about how low systolic pressure should be. In geriatrics the trend is to let it drift up but not above 150. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggest a systolic pressure below 150 for persons age 60 and older. The National Heart Association suggests that it be below 140. Still, there are doctors that believe that having a systolic pressure of 120 or less is associated with reduced cardiovascular mortality. Because of the inconsistencies, many doctors are in a quandary. Dr. J. Michael Gaziano, a Harvard medical professor, believes that in addition to blood pressure medicines, where appropriate, hypertensive patients should diet and exercise to boost the effects of the medications. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has undertaken a study of 9,000 middle-age and older adults with high blood pressure. Half of the study group was randomly assigned to reduce their systolic pressure below 120 while the remaining participants were to reduce their systolic pressure below 140. The study, which is due to be completed in 2017, will measure heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease and the effects on the brain. Perhaps the results of the study will assist the medical community in better treating patients with hypertension. To read more about hypertension, please see the Dallas Morning News article (www.dallasnews.com/lifestyles/health-and-fitness/health/20150905-blood-pressure-how-low-to-go.ece).

Are Our Medications Dangerous? Last year more than 4 billion prescriptions were filled by U.S. pharmacies. Forty percent of Americans age 65 or older take more than five drugs. All too often doctors and patients overlook the side effects of taking multiple medications (prescription and non-prescription). Also pharmaceutical companies cannot always predict the effects. Drug interactions typically occur as the body metabolizes medicines. The most common trouble spots are the intestines and the liver. In the liver the task of breaking down drugs is performed by a family of enzymes. Six of approximately fifty enzymes digest ninety percent of all known medications. Problems can arise when two medications require processing by the same enzyme. The first drug may block the proper processing of the second drug. Also, everyone metabolizes drugs differently because of their genetic make-up.

Because of relatively short testing periods of new drugs by pharmaceuticals and the ever-increasing number of medicines, clinical trials generally do not reveal side effects of drug combinations. However, studies are underway using computer modeling and genetic testing. At this point, genetic testing, for the most part, is limited to a single medication (i.e. determine the rate of absorption). Also, the FDA is trying other ways of identifying potentially dangerous interactions and they are working to improve drug labeling. It is important that we inform each treating physician of all medications, supplements and recreational drugs (such as alcohol) that are consumed.

For more information, please refer to the article “Deadly Drug Combinations” in the October, 2015 issue of Scientific American.

Are There Beneficial Health Benefits from Eating Hot Peppers? Research has shown that capsaicin, the hot compound in peppers, lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of cancer and fights inflammation. It also is an antioxidant and it has antibacterial activity. Finally, people who eat peppers generally live longer. To read more about the beneficial effects of eating hot peppers, please refer to The Dallas Morning News, Sunday, September 6, 2015, Healthy Living Section, “Some like it hot – and enjoy health benefits” or contact me for a copy of the article.

Which is More Beneficial, Walking or Using an Elliptical Machine? An elliptical machine is likely to burn more calories than walking. The Mayo Clinic estimates that in an hour a 160-pound person will burn 365 calories on an elliptical machine and 314 calories from walking. The elliptical machine puts less stress on joints, which can be useful to anyone who has achy or arthritic knees or hips. However, walking is better for hamstrings, calves and the small muscles around the ankles. These muscles are important for good balance, which reduces the risk of falling. To read more about the beneficial effects of walking and using an elliptical machine, please see the New York Times blog (well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/walking-vs-elliptical-machine-redux).

Are Body Weight and Vision Related? It’s been documented that obesity can lead to diabetes and heart disease, but it can also have negative effects on vision. Being overweight can increase the risk of developing cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy; and it can add pressure to the blood vessels in the eyes. In addition to maintaining proper weight, proper nutrition and exercise are also important for healthy vision. To read more about the importance of good health and the effect on vision, please see VSP’s Envision newsletter (www.vspenvisionnewsletter.com/2015/09/your-vision-and-body-weight).

Did women always live longer than men? Differences in life expectancy began to emerge in the late 1880’s. Men and women born before 1840 lived about the same length of time. Then, men born between 1880 and 1899 experienced a death rate 1.5 times greater than women for individuals between the ages of 50 and 70. Finally, the death rate for men increased to 2 times that of women for individuals born after 1899. Cardiovascular disease was the main cause of higher deaths rates among men. Heart disease and stroke accounted for 40 percent of the increase in male mortality rates for individuals born between 1880 and 1919. To read more about the difference in mortality rates, please see the Scientific American article (www.scientificamerican.com/article/when-did-women-start-to-outlive-men).

Updates and Reminders  

In addition to the great health insurance plans and other plans (dental, vision, life insurance, long term care insurance and retirement benefits) that Chevron makes available to qualifying retirees, they also show their support and recognition of the retirees by making available discount and gift giving programs. Here are just some of the ways that Chevron shows its continued support:

Chevron Recreation Program: The program is a great source of discounts on various merchandise and services. The discounts that are available to retirees are very similar to the discounts that are available to employees. I find the program to be extremely valuable, especially when making major purchases (e.g. computers, television, etc.) I’ve saved hundreds of dollars thanks to Chevron. Similarly, other retirees also saved on major purchases like cars. However, the discounts aren’t restricted to major acquisitions. You can also find discounts on everyday items (e.g. clothing, etc.)

I would also like to update you on the progress of cell phone discounts as well as share with you information about other discounts.

  • Cell Phones: The discount program with Verizon is going very well. Jim Bateman, who is a member of the CRA Benefits Committee, reports that many individuals made application for the discount. In addition to Verizon, Sprint also makes available a discount on cell phones. Bill Dodge, who is also a member of the CRA Benefits Committee, is actively working with Sprint on streamlining the application process so that ideally it will be similar to the process used by Verizon. While I would like to report good news about a similar discount with AT&T, unfortunately CRA and Chevron have not been able to make progress. Anyone who is waiting for the AT&T discount may wish to consider switching to Verizon or Sprint. For more information about the cell phone discounts, please visit the Chevron Recreation website’s “Cell Phones” page (chevrec.mybigcommerce.com/categories/Cell-Phones).
  • Other Discounts: As I mentioned, there are many other discounts waiting for you. The discounts include everyday items as well as memberships in national gyms. Bill Dodge is also working with Chevron in making additional discounts available. To see what’s available, just visit the Chevron Recreation website (chevrec.mybigcommerce.com) and start exploring.

Chevron/Texaco Credit Card: Through the credit card Chevron makes available, retirees get a discount of 13¢ per gallon of gasoline. This great discount is the same amount that is offered to employees. In addition to being a savings for us, by purchasing Chevron/Texaco gasoline it’s a great way of supporting the Company. To apply for this excellent perk, please visit the CRA website’s “Chevron Benefits” page.  If you have questions, please contact Skip Rhodes, CRA Public Affairs Chair (510-658-2129 or skip@skiprhodes.com).

Chevron Humankind: Chevron provides one-to-one matching for your eligible financial contributions up to $3,000 per retiree per year.  Grants are also available for qualified volunteer work.  For more information about the program, please visit the CRA website’s "Chevron Humankind" page.  If you have any questions, please contact Skip Rhodes.

In addition to the marvelous benefits and support that are made available by Chevron, CRA also makes available the following benefits and support for our members:

CRA Discount Hearing Aid Program: CRA has worked with Hear In America to bring our members a Discount Hearing Aid Program. Through HIA, members have access to sizable discounts on state of the art hearing aids plus they have the support and guidance of HIA’s staff. To learn more about hearing and hearing aids, please be sure to read the CRA/HIA pamphlet – “Hearing – Tips and Helpful Information.” To access the pamphlet and to learn more about the program, please visit the CRA website’s "CRA Benefits" page.

CRA Dental Program: CRA makes available a Dental Program that is primarily intended to make dental coverage available to our members who are retired from non-Chevron legacy companies (e.g. Texaco, etc.) The coverage is offered through MetLife. For more information about the program please visit the CRA Dental Program website (www.cradental.com).

CRA Auto & Home Insurance Program: CRA makes available discounted auto and home insurance through MetLife. For more information, please phone MetLife at 1-877-491-5089.

CRA Post-retirement Planning Resources: CRA has prepared the following documents as guides for our members and their families:

  • Advanced Care Planning Booklet: This booklet offers information and assistance for our members and their families in addressing issues related to aging (e.g. identifying when an individual needs special assistance in caring for himself, types of special living arrangements that are available, etc.)
  • Personal Planning Worksheet: This document helps our members organize their personal and financial records for their survivors. This worksheet is a must for all retirees and their spouses/partners.

Both these documents can be found on the CRA website’s "CRA Benefits" page.

CRA Benefits Committee: Our aim is to keep members informed about benefits and related issues, be an advocate for them, and assist them in resolving benefits issues. In resolving problems we work with the member, the benefits provider and, as necessary, Chevron. The Committee Members are: Jim Bateman, Linda Bulla, Bill Dodge, Mark Engelbrecht, Herb Farrington and Paul Murrell. They are either retired from or were affiliated with Chevron or a non-Chevron legacy company. 

On The Horizon

Here are some additional resources that the CRA Benefits Committee is working on to bring added value to CRA membership. 

  • CRA Benefits Committee Brochure: Linda Bulla is preparing a booklet that will contain a summary of all the benefits, resources and contact information in one document. This should be a handy guide for CRA members in navigating and dealing with various benefits issues. It is our intent to make the document available through CRA’s website.
  • Discount Program: As I mentioned earlier, Bill Dodge is working with Chevron on identifying additional products and services that can be offered to CRA members. Stay tuned and watch for future notices in Encore and other communications.
  • Canadian Private Health Insurance: Paul Murrell will be working with our CRA Canadian leadership team in finalizing arrangements to make available health insurance for widows who are generally at advanced ages. He will also be looking into the feasibility of making available Travel Health Insurance for our CRA Canadian members.
  • Estate Planning Guide: I will be preparing a guide to assist our members in identifying and navigating the issues that they should consider and discuss with their attorney and estate planner. This document is intended to supplement the Personal Planning Worksheet.

As you can see from the above, Chevron is extremely supportive of the retirees and CRA. This can be demonstrated by the benefits programs and opportunities that are made available to retirees. Based on my experience, I can vouch for the fact that the quality of the programs and support we receive is world class. Chevron management has expressed to CRA that the Company values the retirees. They feel that the retirees can be of great assistance to Chevron by supporting them through the Chevron Advocacy Network. To learn about the Advocacy Network please visit the CRA website’s "Chevron Advocacy Network" page. If you haven’t already signed up for the Advocacy Network, I encourage you to do so. If you have questions about the Advocacy Network, please contact Skip Rhodes.

Finally, in closing I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this column. I appreciate that it is much longer than usual. However, I wanted to bring together and summarize all the savings opportunities and programs that are made available by Chevron and CRA plus apprise you of what is happening in the medical community. Remember, if you know other retirees who are not already members of CRA, I wish to encourage you to let them know what we are doing for our members and invite them to join CRA.

Al Horan, Benefits Chair:
Phone: 972-964-1787
Email: awhoran@verizon.net