In this Aug. 24, 2020, file photo, the University of Maine black bear outside of Memorial Gym is decorated in a blue mask. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Union retirees from the University of Maine System said they’re “exploring various legal avenues” against the University of Maine System as it plans changes to how the health insurance of more than 3,000 retirees is managed.

Under union contracts, retirees have been provided with health care within the university’s group health plan, and most pay a portion of the premium. Under the new plan, they will instead be given a stipend to buy a health plan in a private exchange.

Retirees described the new system as difficult to navigate, and in cases more expensive and inferior in the care it provides.

Jim McClymer is a University of Maine physics professor and the president of the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine, one of several unions that’s opposing the change. He said on average, costs to retirees may not go up much — but on an individual basis the change could be devastating.

“What the university has done is guarantee they save money and kind of left the retirees to sort of fend for themselves. Some of them are going to pay a lot more, especially if they’re on lifesaving drugs, but some are going to be paying so much that they’re going to risk their actual — how they handle their finances to handle paying for these drugs,” he said.

McClymer said it shows a lack of care for retirees that the system had hoped would go unnoticed.

“Group health insurance costs are increasing, we can wash our hands, some will do better, some will do worse, we won’t mention those, we won’t pay attention to details, it’s all good, don’t look over here,” he said.

University system spokesperson Dan Demerit said a traditional group health care plan with “escalating costs and out of pocket expenses was no longer the best option for retirees or fiscally sustainable for the University System.”

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.