back to article IBM health benefits blackout leaves retirees footing the bill

IBM retirees have been forced to pay for some medical expenses out of their own pockets as a result of the IT giant's handling of their healthcare funding. Meanwhile, a large sum of cash remains in limbo. It all started when IBM began transferring the management of retirees' snappily named health reimbursement arrangement ( …

  1. Bebu Silver badge

    plus ça change, ...

    Hah! The leopard does not change his shorts, my girl!”

    ― Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum

    Big Blue - not coincidently I suspect rhymes with sue and screw.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Makes me sick it does

    Medicare Advantage plans? Not to *your* advantage. Try to find a retired/retiring doctor on one of those plans. They can recognize poison.

    Medicare Supplement Plans? My wife was able to get F earlier. I couldn't get that anymore so I'm stuck on G. My wife being on plan F is the only reason we still have a house. Modern medicine can cure you! And unhouse you!

    1. Cheshire Cat

      Re: Makes me sick it does

      I am so glad I chose to live in a country that regards healthcare as a Human Right rather than as a way to screw every last penny from people with no alternative

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Makes me sick it does

        Coming soon to a country in Northwestern Europe!

      2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: Makes me sick it does

        Just think how happy everyone would be if there were healthcare discussions once a week at the local pub. The factor is that a discussion once a week to keep everyone aware of healthcare issues is much better than the pub but having the meeting at your local pub would pretty much guarantee that people with healthcare issues would attend. As a little kid I loved going to the pub with my parents for local village discussions. I don't see IBM as doing anything virtually different that every other wealthy corporations does - so many copy IBM.

      3. Michael Strorm Silver badge

        Re: Makes me sick it does

        Came here to say something like this. From the point of view of someone like myself who doesn't live in the US and hasn't had to get used to this sort of thing being normal, it sounds horrendous.

        The fact that some American retirees are put in the position of having to understand and rely upon convoluted patchwork arrangements like (e.g.) this one tying them to their former employer for their healthcare sounds like a stress-inducing nightmare in itself.

        That's *before* you even factor in having to worry about getting screwed over (as appears to be the case here) and coerced into accepting a different arrangement.

        I'm inclined to accept those who claim American healthcare is some of the best in the world if you're among the few rich enough that money is no object. For everyone else, it looks like a convoluted nightmare, fuelled by vested interests and ludicrously bloated prices.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Makes me sick it does

          It wasn't as bad before ACA. The US system had its problems but ACA solved only one but caused a lot more problems. Bronze plans make the poor spend half their income on the doctor before the insurance pays anything.

          1. ecofeco Silver badge

            Re: Makes me sick it does

            No. Just... no.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Makes me sick it does

              Yes, just yes! Disagreeing just means you didn't read what the bronze plan covers.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Makes me sick it does

        Doctors don't work free of charge, so somebody is paying the bill. Who could it be? It's you! You're paying the bill whether you're sick or ot! It's why your taxes take 70 percent of your income!

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Makes me sick it does

          But here in Communist Canada, in return for the 70% tax rate, we also get free government donuts

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Makes me sick it does

          GASP! You mean you sad sacks don't like the truth? Or are you just too dense to see the connection?

        3. Spazturtle Silver badge

          Re: Makes me sick it does

          Sick people who can't work don't contribute to the economy, the economic benefit of keeping people in work pays for national healthcare.

          1. wtc00rjk

            Re: Makes me sick it does

            We worked for our benefits. $$was taken out of our checks. Many are seniors and put in their time and money

            You need to stop your WOKE BS and look at the rest of us. You are too young to know what a real job is.

            GROW UP

  3. bregister

    Optum HRA

    Is Optum HRA part of United Health Group or is it a different company?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Optum HRA

      It's a separate terrible company that sort of administers the many different accounts that are associated with a US person's healthcare funds.

      Could go into extreme details of the variations on health plans vs related accounts and the costs and tradeoffs and artificial restrictions involved, but we'll save that for another time. Much of it involves contributing untaxed (pre-tax) income into an account that Optum (or other similarly terrible companies) will hold onto for you.

      1. wtc00rjk

        Re: Optum HRA

        Unless you go with UHC, OPTUM will not reimburse a single penny. Forcing you to use them for Medicare,and pay them 130 + per month while Medicare takes 164 out of yor SS CHECK. IBM is DOUBLE DIPPING

        YOU ALREADY PAY FOR MEDICAL INSURANCE thru Medicare, but IBM and UHC want to charge you again. That will be $300 per month that Senior Advantage with Medicare only charges about 160 to 170.

        Medicare says you have YOUR OWN CHOICE for INSURANCE CARRIER. No one can mandate other coverage

  4. xyz123 Bronze badge

    Behind the scenes, its rumored that IBM has a company-obliterating cashflow problem.

    AND 10s of thousands individual of race/sex/sexual preference lawsuits where protected classes were openly fired and told they wouldn't get contractual severance payments etc.

    The cashflow issue is being covered up, but its one of those things that could tank their share price into the ground and turn IBM into junk bonds.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Huh... who could have foreseen that?

      It's almost as if IBM's long-established strategy of using legally-dubious tactics and spurious pretexts to force out their more established (and expensive) employees in order to prop up their short term profits, or that doing something similar to avoid dealing with or paying out over discrimination cases might just have consequences that would return to bite their backsides.

  5. NoneSuch Silver badge

    Same reason it takes three days for money from one account of mine to get internally transferred into another account I own.

    They put the money into one of their "holding" accounts along with everyone elses and keep the interest raised.

  6. BillD64E

    I have been retired from IBM since 12/31/1996. I transitioned from the IBM Health Plans to One Exchange (now VIA Benefits) in 2013. Prior to the transition, there was no HRA available to retirees. Since I had HRAs from two different companies when purchasing insurance through VIA Benefits it was a difficult decision to decide whether to stay with VIA Benefits thus keeping the other company's HRA while losing the IBM HRA or switch to United HealthCare and keep a reduced IBM HRA while losing the other company's HRA. I didn't make up my mind until the very last day of the offer (in December 2022) when I decided to switch to United Health Care. I didn't hear much from United Health Care about the HRA until I received an envelope in the mail in early January. It looked like it was a piece of junk mail with a credit card application. Luckily, I opened the envelope and found two HRA Master Card Debit Cards (one for me and one for my wife). I had my first healthcare appointment on Jan 9th and used the debit card to pay my CoPay. I had my second appointment on Jan 11th and used the Debit Card to pay for that CoPay. So far I have had no issues with Health Care providers refusing my insurance (one test was the 2nd provider that I went to on Jan 11th as they had refused my previous Aetna plan in December 2022).

    So far I can say I am pleasantly surprised with how well the process has worked for me Vs the process where we transitioned to One Exchange that was a stove piped, inflexible operation that couldn't do much of anything. You couldn't even get in touch with a manager that could help you resolve a problem.

    Am I happy I lost the $1800 HRA from the other company I retired from? NO. However, I suspect they will also follow IBM's path within a short time as VIA Benefits really screwed up the HRA for that company and would borrow from the upcoming year's expected deposit to pay a bill that exceeded the authorized budget for the current year. When I left VIA Benefits they had borrowed several hundred dollars against the expected 2023 HRA deposit from that company but will never receive it.

    1. KMMB

      Agree with BillD64E

      There are two (1990's era) retired IBMers in our house. Both of us left the traditional Medicare Plan F and Part D on 1/1/2023, and accepted the IBM Advantage plan. While we were guaranteed a return to previous Medicare up to one year, as of now, we are finding no reason to go back. Our insurance card has been readily accepted so far by at least four different medical facilities, and the prescription plan is working well. There was a bit of a "learning curve" initially, but we are quite satisfied with changes to both medical and pension plans.

    2. WokeUpThisMorning

      I'm still waiting for my HRA master card. Via didn't transfer the money over to Optum until Feb 17, 2023. I've had to pay out of pocket for my premiums & co-pays & am furious because they have no idea when the cards will be printed or mailed out. There's a $750 deductible on the Advantage Plus plans, & I've had to pay all my co-pays out of pocket as well. I had Plan G with Anthem (before this terrible maneuver forcing us onto Medicare Advantage via United) & I had NO co-pays at all. It's total insanity that those of us on fixed incomes have to wait for our funds.

    3. wtc00rjk

      I have been with Kaiser for 30 years. Have had surgeries this year with multiple possible terminal issues. Spent over 5k on medical bills

      I was to be exempt as stated: Kaiser, VA, BCBS that are under Medicare are exempt and can stay.

      Yet, IBM OPTUM, has frozen my HRA.

      I AM EXPECTED to drop Kaiser, even though I am exempt, find no less than 5 different specialists, get new MRIs, CTs at $300 each, then drive over 75 miles to each specialist.

      I have a surgery coming up that will allow me to walk and live without pain and off opids.

      IBM will NOT RESPOND

  7. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    “I Like Money”

    “$50,000 in recent expenses covered without hassle”

    And that was just for the cost of the coffee in the waiting room

    Uh-murica, I mean no country is perfect, far from it.

    Healthcare are just 2 words joined together.

    I got another 2 words

    Profit seeking

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm one of the retirees IBM took money from

    I am one of the people who had tens of thousands of dollars in my IBM HRA, now unfairly taken away. I needed to stay with my previous Medicare Supplement plan due to health issues, but IBM stopped letting me use my HRA money unless I switched to the far inferior Advantage plan they rolled out this year. For years, they promised me I would have that money to spend on health care after my retirement. Now, they've done a bait and switch on me. They get richer, and I get poorer - and they don't care about that at all.

    1. wtc00rjk

      Re: I'm one of the retirees IBM took money from

      They are doing ghe same to me

      I am looking for retirees to join a CLASS ACTION,against IBM.

      I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE EXEMPTsince I had been with Kaiser for 3 decades. Yet escalations to IBM HAVE GONE UNANSWERED.

      When they don't respond you know they are scrambling with attorneys.

      They are with holding over 33k from me. When I get my recent hospital bills, I will have to file bankruptcy

      I only have Social Security to live on

      Medicare takes 164 per.month. going with UHC will cost an additional 131 per month.

      IBM needs to have a Class Action against them

      I need more to join in. I am obtaing an attorney to start it

  9. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

    IBM Management: Nothing but Thieves

    "I've been around this world, and I've met a lot of funny men; / Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen."

  10. Runningonempty

    Lesson for curent IBMers

    I was told a story dating back to the early 70s ( if memory serves ) .

    IBM had come up with an "improvement" in the retirement plan . Employees had a choice , but , boy o boy , the new plan was grrrrreat !!!

    The person who told be this was then a newbie and his manager , who had 20-30 years with IBM had explained a very simple fact to this newbie .

    " IBM just spent a ton of money , time , resources , for a "new" plan . All of that was not done to give more money to employees . "

    Lesson : ALWAYS stick with the old plan . It is , by definition , superior .

  11. Runningonempty

    Forgot to add


    Lesson : ALWAYS stick with the old plan . It is , by definition , superior .


    But then , you run the risk ( with a quite high probability I am told ) that IBM will muck up the old plan by some twist of words

    ( remember California "quota letters" that are BOTH a contract , and NOT a contract ? ) .

    Still , best odds are with the old plan .

  12. earl grey

    it's ok folks, nothing to see here

    the CEO and other mucky-mucks will be getting theirs even if everyone else drops off a cliff.

  13. Huge G Rection

    Interest credits are wrong.

    The IBM HRAs interest credits are calculated for the year as the average of the one year treasury bill for Sept-Dec plus 1%. For 2022 that was 1.17%. Now that interest rates have soared the new calculation brings it to 5.1%. Yet IBM continues to credit the HRA accounts at the old rate. Again , either trying to pull a fast one or complete incompetence.

  14. JohnCr

    The money is in the bank!

    I am a former USA employee.

    1) I have about a year of experience with UnitedHealthcare's Optum service. So far they've handled stuff competently. No problems, yet.

    2) When the IBM HRA money was not transferred on time I contacted UnitedHealthcare. They told me the money would be transferred from Via Benefits to their Optum Financial services in mid-February.

    3) I just checked, there is now money in my HRA/Optum Financial account!

    4) We should be getting HRA debit cards soon.

    This scare may be coming to an end.

  15. mcanada

    HSA balance appears!

    One more IBM retiree who has been managing without access to HRA since December. Our "HRA Perpetual Active (Future Health Account - FHA)" {mouthful} is showing the expected balance as of Feb 15. Hoping for smoother road ahead. Thanks for your article Tom.

  16. wtc00rjk

    Ibm.has frozen my HR account because will not change my Medicare to UHC.

    I am exempt as I already have been with Kaiser Senior Advantage since 2019 and with Ksiser for 30 years.

    Ibm claims I was never with Kaiser. I have medical records that date back for almost 30 years

    I currently have over $5,000 in rei.bursements do to me. I have over $33k in my HRA but IBM.HAS FROZEN IT.

    I have multiple surgeries scheduled and possible terminal medical issues. IBM HRA and Optum will not respond to my escalated issues for over 6 months.

    I am going to seek a Class Action against IBM.

    I WAS WITH VIA before, had reimbursements honored. Now I am being told to drop Kaiser, whom I have been with for approximately 30 years and go with UHC MEDICARE.

    I have surgeries Schuler, multiple illnesses which the is no cure for, yet IBM HRA nor OPTUM. Will talk to me. They ignore and no not respond to escalations


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