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Rocky Flats Retirees Upset With Health Plan Changes

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ARVADA, Colo. (CBS4) - Former Rocky Flats employees are accusing their health plan administrators of breaking promises about their insurance given to them when they retired.

Roughly 5,000 retirees are covered under a plan created by the Department of Energy to care for aging employees who worked under dangerous conditions at the former nuclear weapons plant. Those plans are changing from a company-wide commercial plan to individual plans under United Health Care. The decision wasn’t well-received when it was explained at a town hall-like meeting on Saturday in Arvada.

“There is a very strong undercurrent of frustration because these retirees were promised they could keep the health care that they had when they retired,” said Cinda Kochen, the spouse of a Rocky Flats worker who retired in 1992.

She said she and her husband intensively discussed their options when he considered retirement: whether she’d work to take up any financial slack, how they’d spend retirement and how they’d handle any health concerns. He decided to retire then because he was promised excellent life-long benefits, she said. But the change in insurance plans has thrown a spur into his retirement.

“The plans that are being offered to him now don’t even come close,” she said.

Kochen receives the same coverage as her husband. She says she will be paying “significantly more” and guesses her annual costs will increase by $5,000 to $10,000.

Cinda Kochen (credit: CBS)

Cinda Kochen (credit: CBS)

“I’m not getting any younger,” she said. “It means I may have to go back to work. I do bring in some small income, but it really means we’re going to have to scramble.”

Another retiree bluntly told CBS4: “We’re getting screwed. Plain and simple.”

But Brian Thomas, an employee at the company that is administering the plans, said he hopes retirees will give the plans time: “Perhaps it will be not nearly be as bad as they anticipated.”

Thomas, a business services manager for Washington River Protection Solutions, the company administering the plans, said the decision to change was tough. He said he has to balance competing interests, including those of taxpayers, the Department of Energy and plan participants.

“Those (…) stakeholders’ objectives are mutually exclusive, but I’ve got responsibilities to them all. I’ve made some tough decisions,” Thomas told CBS4.

Brian Thomas (credit: CBS)

Brian Thomas (credit: CBS)

He said he acknowledges the switch is difficult.

“The dilemma is you’ve got people that have retired 20 years ago or 25 years ago. They’ve never had any changes to their plans. Any change is difficult, particularly somebody in their 70s and 80s. You’re dealing with an element of the population that struggles with change. We know that,” Thomas said. The retirees’ average age is 73.

Rocky Flats, which mainly produced triggers for nuclear weapons, closed in 2005 after more than 50 years of operations.

United States Department of Energy Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado (file photo credit: CBS)

United States Department of Energy Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado (file photo credit: CBS)

United States Department of Energy Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado (file photo credit: CBS)

United States Department of Energy Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado (file photo credit: CBS) Rocky Flats (file photos credit: CBS)

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