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Retirees flooding dental and vision offices as benefits run out

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Stacy Vogel
June 28, 2009
— The first thing John Haffery did when he found out about changes to his GM retiree benefits was call his eye doctor and dentist.

“The minute I found out about (the changes), I called up and said, ‘I’ve got to get in here,’” he said as he picked up new glasses Wednesday at Eyeworks, 1305 Excalibur Drive, Janesville.


He wasn’t the only one.


Local dental and vision offices are booked solid as GM retirees rush to get in one last check-up before losing vision and dental benefits July 1.


“These past couple of weeks have just been crazy,” said Sherri Radtke, dental assistant at Milton Dental Center, 42 Merchant Row, Milton. “We’ve been trying to get as many in as we could and take care of what they need.”


The United Auto Workers approved a new contract with GM on May 29 that, among other things, eliminates some retiree benefits. The move affects about 2,100 retirees in the Janesville area and 4,200 Wisconsin retirees, according to UAW estimates.


The calls started flooding Dr. Lloyd Smith’s dental office, 1111 Suffolk Drive, Janesville, in early June, said Diann Wurtz, accounts manager.


Employees have been working through their lunch hours and coming in half an hour early to accommodate the retirees and their families, she said.


The office called its affected patients, Wurtz said. Some had been putting off work until the end of the year so as not to use up all their benefits early in the year. Now, they’re rushing to get that work done.


Some patients are concerned about losing their benefits, Wurtz said. They’ve been asking if they can go longer between check-ups, and the office has been handing out flyers about the importance of regular dental care.


“Some of them have always had dental benefits,” she said. “It’ll be a period of adjustment for them.”


Haffery said he’ll still try to get dental cleanings twice a year, but he might cut back on vision check-ups or other work.


“If I have to pay out of pocket, I’m going to have to pick and choose when I go to the dentist and have my eyes (checked),” he said.


He’s also concerned about having to change eye doctors or dentists if the UAW finds a different plan for retirees.


“Obviously I’m not happy about it, but obviously it’s just something you’ve got to roll with the punches,” he said.


Eyeworks is working on a special program for GM retirees to help them make up for the loss of benefits, owner Tom Truppe said.


The office also has temporarily increased its time for eye exams from 2.5 to 3.5 days a week.


Truppe and other providers said they plan to take care of the retirees after they lose their benefits and hope they continue with regular dental and vision care.


“We’ve been so fortunate to have GM in our town, and I’m sure the dentists will take care of their patients as well as they can,” Smith said.



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