Chancellor Dannel Malloy answers questions at a forum about unified accreditation in this November 2019 file photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The University of Maine System has hired an independent overseer to field questions from the more than 3,000 retirees who will be affected by the system’s switch to a new retiree health plan, a cost-saving measure that has drawn criticism from retirees and union officials.

The retiree health insurance ombudsman will also regularly update the university system’s board of trustees on the switch to the new health plan.

The switch to Aon Retiree Health Exchange will save the public university system $2.5 million annually on its retiree health insurance benefit, which fills Medicare coverage gaps for eligible retirees.

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But retirees and union officials criticized the UMaine System for making the changes in September, in the middle of a pandemic, without bargaining or public discussion. Some retirees have said the switch will raise their health care costs, particularly for those with expensive health care needs. In a September letter to UMaine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy, most Maine Senate Democrats and 47 of the party’s House members equated the change to “pulling the rug out” from retirees.

The Aon plan is a defined contribution plan — which provides a person a certain amount of money to access undefined benefits — as opposed to the previous plan, which was a defined benefit plan that outlined the covered benefits ahead of time.