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Legislative Update October 2010

FRA, USDOT release National Rail Plan Update

On September 28, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) released an update of the National Rail Plan in a report, titled “Moving Forward: A Progress Report.” The report is a joint effort of the Federal Railroad Administration and the USDOT and builds on the preliminary report that was mandated by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 and submitted to Congress in October 2009. The report outlines numerous factors — past, present and future — that support the improvement of rail infrastructure in this country and how important it will be to the future as the population grows, energy costs increase, the reduction of carbon emissions becomes ever more important, and our nation strives to compete in  the global economy.

The report outlines a vision for high-speed intercity passenger rail; discusses the importance of a high-performance freight-rail network; and outlines how rail can help the USDOT reach strategic goals for safety, state of good repair, economic competitiveness, livable communities and environmental sustainability. Once the National Rail Plan is completed, it will establish the framework needed to begin laying a foundation that will improve the transportation network. To see the full report, go to http://www.dot.gov/affairs/2010/fra1710.html.

High Speed Rail Projects Imperiled at State Level

As you are most likely already well aware, high speed rail is one of President Obama’s signature initiatives and billions of dollars have been allocated from various sources, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the economic stimulus plan), for high speed rail projects. Many states have already been awarded grants for high speed rail projects, but candidates for governor in some of the states that won the biggest stimulus rail awards are threatening to block, or significantly delay, the President’s plan to expand the passenger rail system and to develop the nation’s first bullet-train service.

The state of Wisconsin was awarded more than $810 million in federal stimulus money to build a train line between Milwaukee and Madison; however Scott Walker, the Republican candidate for governor in that state, has made his opposition to the project central to his campaign. In Ohio, John Kasich, the Republican candidate for governor, vows to kill a $400 million federal stimulus project to link Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati by rail. Florida received $1.25 billion in federal stimulus money for a rail line from Orlando to Tampa, but Rick Scott, Republican candidate for governor of that state is questioning whether the state should invest in the project. Meg Whitman, Republican candidate for governor ofCalifornia, is threatening to delay that state’s $45 billion plan to link Los Angeles and San Francisco with trains that would go up to 220 miles per hour, stating that she doesn’t believe the state can afford the costs associated with new high-speed rail at this time. California has already received $2.25 billion in stimulus money and California’s current Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, supports high speed rail in his state.

All of this opposition at the state level is a reminder of the challenge of building a national transportation project in the United States. The federal government can set priorities, but the states must build them. Some federal officials are incredulous that candidates are threatening to spurn stimulus money that their states competed ferociously to win just a year ago.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated: “The bottom line is that high-speed rail is a national program that will connect the country, spur economic development, and bring manufacturing jobs to the U.S. It will also transform transportation in America, much like the Interstate highway system did under President Eisenhower. It’s hard to imagine what would have happened to states like Ohio and Wisconsin if their leaders had decided they didn’t want to be connected to the rest of the country back then.”

The current Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, who is seeking re-election, is flabbergasted that anyone would turn down a $400 million construction project, fully financed by the federal government, to link the state’s biggest cities. Federal officials have declined to speculate on what will happen if anti-rail candidates win in the November mid-term elections, but states that turn down rail money will probably have to return it to the federal government so it could then be awarded to states that want it.

Locomotive Cab Safety, Security

In spite of increased security measures enacted by the “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007,” which provided for substantial funding for general railroad enhancements, and Amtrak security enhancements; the development of a national strategy for rail transportation security; requirements for railroad carrier security assessments and plans; development and implementation of a railroad security training program; due process for rail workers subject to security checks; and whistleblower protections, we recently learned that our operating crews are still in grave danger. A CSX conductor was shot to death in the cab of a locomotive in June of this year during a robbery attempt while the train sat in a siding. Although the engineer on that train survived, he was also shot and was seriously injured. This occurred just four days after public release of the Teamsters High Alert 2 rail security report which revealed that 51 percent of train crews surveyed had no way to lock or secure the cab of their locomotive against unauthorized access while occupied, and 73 percent reported that they had no way to lock the cab while it was unoccupied. In a September 22 letter to FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo, BLET President Pierce highlighted data from the two Teamsters Rail Conference High Alert surveys, showing that most BLET members are unable to secure their cabs from attack, and that little has changed over the past five years.

President Pierce offered to develop a PDF-based reporting form that BLET members could access via the BLET website to electronically report specific instances of an inability to secure their locomotive cabs. He also said the BLET would compile and maintain the data from these reports, if FRA was prepared to accept their validity.

The FRA was additionally asked to take the following steps:

  • Revise its interpretation of 49 C.F.R. § 229.45 to include malfunctioning and uninstalled cab locking devices as “conditions that endanger the safety of the crew” and issue a Safety Advisory to that effect.
  • Revise the Task Statement for the Locomotive Safety Standards Working Group of the FRA’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee to include the development of standards for securing locomotive cabs.
  • Make locomotive cab securement a prominent feature in FRA’s final report on cab conditions, which is mandated by Section 405(b) of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
  • Empower operating crews with the right to manage their locomotive consist so that an air conditioned locomotive is on the point whenever any locomotive in their consist is so equipped, to reduce exposure caused when crews are forced by heat to leave cab windows open.
  • Revisit outdated glazing requirements.

Big Changes on the Horizon for Your Health Care Benefits

The detailed information below is from a Newsflash sent out from the BLET National Office on September 29. For those covered by United Health Care (UHC), it is imperative that social security numbers (SSN) for every dependent on your health care plan be submitted to UHC by the end of January 2011. If UHC does not have a SSN for a dependent on your health care plan, that dependent’s coverage will be terminated. If you later provide the SSN for that dependent, he or she may be reinstated, but I strongly advise you not to let that happen. Another important change is that your children can now be covered by the plan up to the age of 26, even those who are married or living outside your home, if they meet certain requirements outlined below. Be sure to read the details below to determine if your adult children qualify for health care coverage under your plan. A Dependent Add Form will be included in the enrollment packet you should have already received that must be postmarked by November 3rd.

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Employees covered under the Railroad Employees National Health and Welfare Plan and the National Railway Carriers and United Transportation Union Health and Welfare Plan (the Plan) will soon receive their annual Open Enrollment Packets from Railroad Enrollment Services. It is imperative that every employee open the packet to read the important Plan changes effective January 1, 2011. Further, it is also vital that each employee reads the instructions on how to comply with the Federal Law requiring Social Security Numbers (SSNs) for covered dependents.

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “Act”). Since that date several federal agencies have published Interim Final Regulations (IFRs) interpreting the provisions of the Act. As a result, the Plans will make certain changes effective January 1, 2011.

Grandfathered Status

These Plans consider that they are grandfathered health plans under the Act. Being a grandfathered health plan means that a plan was in effect on March 23, 2010, and makes that plan exempt from some provisions of the Act. However, a grandfathered health plan must still comply with certain health care reform requirements. Two of them, removal of lifetime limits and addition of certain dependent children to age 26, are scheduled to become effective for this Plan on January 1, 2011.

Effective January 1, 2011, the following will be implemented under the Plan. During Open Enrollment, Railroad Employees will be given a 30-day special enrollment period to take advantage of these provisions. Please note, the deadline for enrolling is November 3, 2010.

Removal of Lifetime Limits from the Plans

Currently, the Plan contains a lifetime maximum benefit of $1,000,000 per each individual, which includes any amounts paid under 1) the Comprehensive Health Care Benefit (CHCB); 2) Out-of-Net work services under the Managed Medical Care Program (MMCP); or 3) Out-of-Network services for mental health care under the Mental Health and Substance Abuse (MHSA) Benefits. There is also a separate lifetime maximum benefit of $100,000 per individual for Out-of-Network services for substance abuse care under the MHSA Benefits.

Beginning on January 1, 2011 these lifetime maximums will be eliminated for any individual who reached or will reach a lifetime maximum prior to December 31, 2010. The Plan will begin paying any claims incurred by that individual on or after January 1, 2011. Note: any claims incurred prior to January 1, 2011 that exceed the maximum will not be paid.

Any individual who had previously reached the lifetime maximum under the Plan and is no longer enrolled in the Plan, or opted-out of coverage, now has the right to re-enroll in the Plan during the special 30-day enrollment period which will run concurrently with the Plan’s 30-day annual open enrollment period this year.

Addition of Certain Dependent Children to Age 26

The Plan will be extending coverage to certain dependent children to age 26, regardless of student, marital, residence or financial dependence status of the dependent child. The 30-day special enrollment period is being provided for certain children that are not currently enrolled in the Plan, or who are enrolled in the Plan but will lose their dependent eligibility on or before December 31, 2010. Coverage for any children added during this special enrollment period will be effective on January 1, 2011. In order to be eligible for this special enrollment, your child:

• Must not be currently enrolled in the Plan, or be currently enrolled in the Plan but will lose his/her dependent eligibility status on or before December 31, 2010; and
• Must be your married or unmarried child, under the age of 26, who is not eligible to enroll for coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan, other than the group health plan of a parent.

  • A child is your natural child, your stepchild, your adopted child (including a child placed with you for adoption) and your child who is an Alternate Recipient under a Qualified Medical Child Support Order.
    • Your child does not have to be a student, reside with you or be financially dependent upon you.
    • Your child can be married and still qualify for coverage under the Plan. However, the Plan will not cover the spouse of your child.

NOTE: Only your child who meets the above definition can be added and have his/her coverage extended to age 26 for this special enrollment. It is also important to note that this extension of coverage does not apply to Dental and Vision benefits. Grandchildren are not impacted by the Act and the IFRs. Thus, a grandchild must continue to meet all other requirements for his/her coverage. Please consult the Plan’s Summary Plan Description for more details on these requirements.

If you have a dependent child currently enrolled in the Plan who will not lose his/her dependent eligibility prior to January 1, 2011, coverage will automatically be extended up to age 26 for that child if he/she is your natural child, stepchild, adopted child (including a child placed with you for adoption) or your child who is an Alternate Recipient under a Qualified Medical Child Support Order. Such dependent child is only eligible if he/she is not eligible to enroll for coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan, other than the group health plan of a parent.

If your child was enrolled in the Plan and his/her coverage ended prior to December 31, 2010, or if you have a child that was denied coverage or was not otherwise eligible under the Plan, you may now enroll this child if he/she meets the requirements set forth above. Also, if your child currently has COBRA continuation coverage, you may now obtain coverage for your child without COBRA as long as he/she meets the requirements set forth above.

If you are not currently enrolled in the Plan because you previously opted-out of coverage, you may enroll for coverage for yourself and your eligible dependent children during this special enrollment period.

Your personalized annual open enrollment materials have been mailed.  If you have not received anything within the next week or so, please contact United Health Care. The package contains further details along with a special Dependent Add Form. Please review the materials and follow the instructions included in the packet to enroll your eligible dependents up to age 26. The completed Dependent Add Form and other required materials must be postmarked no later than November 3, 2010 in order to have the eligible dependents covered by your Plan.

If you have questions regarding the Health Care Reform provisions you should contact your claims administrator by calling the Member Services phone number located on the back of your Member Identification Card, or:

Claims Administrator & Health and Welfare Plan telephone numbers:
Aetna: 1-800-842-4044
Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield: 1-866-267-3320
United Healthcare: 1-800-842-9905

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The Plan changes described above, namely, the removal of lifetime limits and the addition of certain dependent children to age 26 may not be permanent. They will remain in effect only so long as required by the Act as interpreted by applicable agency regulations. The interpretations of the Act set forth in the IFRs issued to date do impose those requirements. They, along with other changes mandated by the IFRs, may, however, be reversed or modified by future agency action, judicial decision or legislation. In that event, your Plan will incorporate the terms and conditions of such reversal or modification, effective as soon as practicable after it occurs.

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