It’s something that all new Metro employees must do. Shortly after he took office, Mayor Bill Purcell was notified in writing that as an employee of Metro, he had 30 working days to provide the city’s Benefit Board office with a copy of his birth certificate and Social Security card. The letter states firmly that by having “this information on file we can insure that the [benefit] plan only covers those individuals that are qualified under the plan.”
But now after nearly 40 working days, the mayor’s documents still aren’t on file, and neither are those from more than 15 members of his own staff.
Don’t blame the mayor’s office for neglecting the paperwork. According to Bill Phillip’s, the mayor’s top aide, staff members brought in their documents, but the Benefit Board didn’t file them. “I handed them the documents,” says Phillips, whose file is also incomplete, “And they just looked at it. I said to myself, ‘There’s a waste of time.’ ”
Jim Luther, executive secretary of the Benefit Board, says that while many of the files appear to be missing important documents, neither the mayor nor his staff has to worry about health-care coverage or other benefits. He says his staff will find the paperwork.
But if you don’t work for the mayor, the Benefit Board might not give you the same benefit of the doubt, at least according to one employee.
Jennifer Batson, a young secretary for Public Works, was initially without health care for her baby because the Benefit Board claimed that it took her more than 30 working days to add the newborn to her medical coverage. Batson’s baby boy was born on July 20, but she didn’t contact the Benefit Board office until Sept. 7, according to the office. As a result, her baby was uninsured for at least three weeks and possibly longer.
“I was very upset and nervous about having a baby with no insurance,” she says. “I got these doctor bills for $500 and $600. I’ve been very upset, and I worried myself sick.”
Batson says she phoned to add her newborn to her medical coverage within the 30-day window and left a message with an employee at the Benefit Board. She says that while she tried again and again to contact someone at the Board office, nobody returned her call for over two weeks. Finally a supervisor informed a worried Batson that everything was fine with her newborn’s coverage.
But at the end of September, another office employee told Batson that because she did not contact them within 30 days, she couldn’t add her baby to her coverage. It was about that time she started receiving bill’s from her baby’s doctor, she recalls.
Luther says that according to the office’s phone logs, Batson contacted the board office after 30 days. Nevertheless, he says the board office has added Batson’s newborn to her medical coverage. Still, Batson is not completely confident that her baby is in fact enrolled and as of press time, still has not received anything confirming her son’s coverage in writing.
Councilman at-large Leo Waters called the Benefit Board office on behalf of Batson and might well have cut through the bureaucratic maze to help land her coverage. A keen watchdog of the office, Waters says that while stories like Batson’s aren’t as common as they were just a few years ago, they still come up far too often.
“I’m certainly not happy about it,” he says. “The system works, but it takes a long time and it doesn’t work through the normal procedural channels that it should work through. There should be an easier way for people to get responses.”
Meantime, the Benefit Board has a lot of paperwork to retrieve. Documents are missing not only for Purcell and a good chunk of his staff but for other high-profile officials. They include Finance Director David Manning, himself a member of the Benefit Board, and newly elected Council member Amanda McClendon.
Having a complete file is more than just a mere formality. A few years ago a Metro firefighter was bilking the city out of thousands of dollars. He managed to add his girlfriend to his health plan by claiming that she was his wife. At the time, employees were not required to submit their marriage certificate if they planned to apply for family benefits.
That’s now a requirement, but of course, there are exceptions. A recent look at ex-Mayor Phil Bredesen’s file revealed that he is missing nearly all his vital documents. Luther says the mayor’s pension is handled differently than a regular employee. Nevertheless, he acknowledges his file should be complete. “I’ll go back and ask why they are not there. If they are not there, they are not there.”
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