The University of Maine System announced Monday that it will hire an independent ombudsman to help retired employees make the transition to a new health insurance plan that has been met with controversy.

The ombudsman will field inquiries from more than 3,000 University of Maine System retirees and dependents eligible for coverage, ensure they are addressed and make regular reports to the board of trustees, the system announced in a news release. The ombudsman is expected to be on board and communicating with retirees by the week of Nov. 24.

Dozens of retirees have voiced opposition to the change in health insurance plans, which would move them from a group plan to a health care exchange where they would be required to pay for medical expenses upfront and then be reimbursed.

The Maine Education Association and unions representing faculty and staff have filed grievances and said the changes were done against signed contracts between the system and retired employees. Jim McClymer, president of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine, said Monday the system has denied the grievances filed by the three unions representing employees and they will now head to arbitration.

“It’s way too little and it misses the point,” McClymer said of the system’s hiring of the ombudsman.

The system is expected to save $2.5 million annually from the change and has said it will provide retirees with more choice and flexibility in health insurance. To date about 1,300, or 44 percent, of eligible participants have made the transition to the new plan.

While unions and some retirees have called on the system to drop the change and revert to the current group plan, the system said in its news release Monday it has no plans to do so.

“We are committed to this change,” said Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Ryan Low. “Participants in the expiring group retiree health plan are strongly encouraged to engage with (insurance broker) Aon’s transition specialists to join the more than 1,300 retirees who have already enrolled in an individualized health exchange plan.”

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