The 2020 Baltimore County Schools cyberattack has come back to haunt retirees who were overcharged and undercharged for health benefits.
The school system’s human resources staff recently told school board members that retirees who weren’t charged enough would have to pay the money back. One person was undercharged $20,000, according to school staff.
A union leader said there’s more the school system could be doing, especially for something that was no fault of the retirees.
The problems with retiree benefits had come up earlier this year and many thought they were resolved. But new mistakes have since been found.
The ransomware attack hit the system in November 2020 during the first year of the pandemic, when the school system had turned to virtual learning. As a result of the attack, classes were canceled, law enforcement was brought in, data was lost because the system did not pay the hackers and recovery efforts cost millions.
One casualty was the data of all school retirees, about 9,700 people. It resulted in retired school employees being billed more or less than what they actually owed for their health benefits.
Shiria Anderson, chief human resources officer for Baltimore County Public Schools, told the school board that the system had identified the affected retirees. Those who overpaid were reimbursed between July 31 and Aug. 1, Anderson said. For those who underpaid or did not pay, Voya, the benefits vendor, will collect the payments.
“Some of our retirees may have owed $5 or two-thousands of dollars,” Anderson said.
At most, a retiree was overpaid upwards of about $20,000. “And that’s due to the various plan elections that the retiree made,” Anderson said.
The payments are interest-free, she said. If the payment is $3,000 or less, retirees have 24 months to pay it back. If it’s more than $3,000, they have 48 months. Anderson said the repayment terms were agreed upon with the school system’s union partners. Retirees will not be penalized with late fees, nor will their coverage be canceled because of late payments.
“The goal ultimately is to recoup the dollars of the underpayment,” Anderson said.
Angela Leitzer, chairperson for the Teachers Association of Baltimore County’s retiree committee, said retired school staff emailed her in January saying either no money was taken out of their pensions or too much money was taken out to pay for benefits like health care.
“When looking at reports from pension payments, it didn’t concur with the amount they should be paying,” she said.
Some were also being charged for spouses who were deceased. Leitzer said she met with the system’s deputy superintendent to figure out how to resolve the issue. A company was hired to recover the data and Leitzer thought it was over.
The school system provided a July 19 letter they sent to retirees to The Baltimore Banner. It said that initial efforts to “reconcile retiree benefits” ended April 28.
But retirees reported additional inaccuracies. A recovery team was put together to fix it.
The letter stated that bills for those who owe will be sent by the end of the month to the school system’s vendor, Benefit Strategies. A second call center was created so more staff could answer questions from retirees.
Then, about three weeks ago, Voya sent invoices on behalf of the school system to those who owed, creating even more chaos.
Leitzer said retirees emailed her about Voya. They didn’t know what Voya was and why they were receiving a bill from the company. They had been expecting a Benefit Strategies letter and were unaware the company was acquired by Voya in July 2021.
“That was a major source of confusion,” Leitzer said. “Many retirees thought it was a scam.”
One of the retirees affected was board member John Offerman. Both he and his wife were educators with the school system. He said he received an unexpected letter from Voya saying that said he owed money.
Anderson told Offerman to disregard Voya’s letter and to be on the lookout for a letter from the school system. She said all retirees with questions could contact the school system’s human resources office, but asked Offerman to give them 72 to 96 hours to respond.
Leitzer said hundreds of retirees reported issues similar to Offerman’s. They were being charged for dental insurance, for instance, when they did not sign up for it. Some Voya letters listed incorrect dollar amounts owed to retirees and letters were being sent to the wrong people.
In one example Leitzer gave, a letter was sent to a retiree’s daughter in Alaska, even though the daughter was an adult and had not been a dependent for years.
Though Anderson said it should take three to four days for school staff to get back to retirees with issues, retirees are reporting that it has taken weeks.
“You can call and call and call, and can never get through,” Leitzer said.
She doesn’t blame workers in the benefits office because they are understaffed. She blames the superintendent and school board.
“They did not see the situation for the problem that it is,” she said. “And provide the staffing needed to address this.”
She claimed the school system knew retiree data was lost but did not notify retirees until Leitzer’s group, TABCO-R, brought it up and spoke to news media.
The school system, however, said in a statement to The Banner that the notification was immediate.
“Through the media, county resources, and direct communications, we informed the public, including our retirees, that the attack was catastrophic and impacted every aspect of BCPS operations, including areas such as payroll and employee data, including retiree data,” the email said. “Much of our work over the last two years has been devoted to addressing these issues and communicating with stakeholders as soon as those problems were resolved.”
The school system said the benefits office is facing the same hiring challenges as all other school systems. However, it has been Williams’ priority to allocate additional resources where needed. The call center was listed as an example and the email said that leadership regularly met with TABCO to discuss these issues.
“Dr. Williams understands and appreciates how important our retired employees are to BCPS, and the clearest indication of his support has been his allocation of resources to resolve issues quickly and satisfactorily,” the email stated.
Julie Henn, chair of the board, said in a message that board members recognized the urgency of the situation. They escalated concerns to the superintendent and made sure it was discussed at last week’s board meeting.
Some retirees have had their issues resolved, Leitzer said. But solving them all of them will take a lot of time.
“If you don’t have enough staff … how do you get this resolved in a timely manner?” she asked.