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Barrick Gold Abandons Retiree Health Plan

Barrick Gold says it is the largest gold producer in the world. Thanks to record high gold prices, Barrick claimed $4.7 billion in adjusted net earnings in 2011, which it calls "record financial results." Barrick increased its quarterly dividend by 33% in May 2012 and has increased its dividend by 260% over the last six years.

Barrick has maintained "a consistent track record of returning additional capital to shareholders." But in yet another abandonment of its responsibilities to the people did the hard work of building its wealth, Barrick Gold has canceled the medical benefits it promised to a thousand former employees.

Citing rising operating costs, Barrick Gold Corp. will cancel the Homestake Retiree Medical Plan, leaving about 1,000 retirees without the benefit.

Cara Horton, benefits manager with Barrick Gold Corp., said Homestake retirees who are at least 65 or older will lose the company’s retiree medical plan at the end of this year. That includes about 800 retirees. About 200 former employees who are not yet 65 will lose the benefits next year.

Horton said Barrick Gold Corp. will issue one-time subsidy checks that are intended to help offset the cost to purchase private health insurance for one year [Wendy Pitlick, "Lost Benefits," Black Hills Pioneer, 2012.11.10].

Barrick acquired Homestake in 2001. The former employees its cutting loose aren't on their own: thankfully, they have trusty old Medicare to provide their primary coverage. Since the Barrick plan is limited to a few Northern Hills providers, many of the stiffed retirees already have other supplemental plans.

But Barrick said they'd be there to help. Now they're bailing, scrapping benefits for workers who earned them in order to sustain shareholder payouts.

Barrick has about as much regard for the people who carried its loads as the swiftly liquidating Romney campaign. That's the vulture capitalist mindset.


  1. David Newquist 2012.11.10

    Barrick Gold also resisted taking any environmental responsibility for what it left behind at Homestake. If it could not be relieved of such responsibilities, it threatened to shut off the pumps and let the mine flood. And that is exactly what it did. Converting Homestake into a national underground laboratory had the endorsement of every major physical scientist in the nation. When the pumps were turned off, the scientists shifted their interests to other sites. They realized that science could not and should not be held hostage by a corporation on a petulant rampage over having to clean up any messes it made. Subsequently, the National Science Foundation, which had been the leading advocate of the conversion, withdrew its support. Barrick Gold and the capitulation of the state to corporate interests is the reason that the Homestake is now limping along as a subsidiary of the Sanford enterprises.

    Barrack Gold is building quite a reputation as a corporate citizen.

  2. Ken Santema 2012.11.10

    There is no excuse for failing to back a promise to employees (or former employees). If the company has the resources to keep their promise they should do so.

    However, I think this is yet another case that shows people should not rely upon employers or government for primary medical insurance. Employer and government backed insurance plans should be seen as a fallback, instead of first choice. Leave the basic government health plans in place for those who really need the help (poverty, disabilities, etc...). But people need to learn to use their resources to get an insurance plan best suited to them. Many employers are now happily providing fairly good reimbursements for employees that choose their own insurance as opposed to using a corporate plan.

    Without more facts this case appears to be one of greed, but situations like this have happened to a lot of people due to companies failing. Opening the insurance market an allowing more choices of health insurance would provide better solutions than pre-canned corporate or government plans.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.10

    David, you're right: it's clear Barrick doesn't give a darn about anyone but its big-money investors. They bail and let others, especially government, take up the slack in meeting their obligations.

    Ken, if not employers or government, then where are the majority of Americans supposed to get insurance? I'd love to know where these "fairly good reimbursements" are that would make individual-market health insurance affordable for me and my family and the millions like us who face total financial insecurity because of the high price and unreliability of private insurance. Most middle-class families can be as responsible as possible with their resources and still be wiped out by a single medical problem that causes their individual market insurer to drop them and then wipes out their savings. This market doesn't operate on choice; it would function best by putting everyone in the biggest pool possible, 300+ million Americans all covering each other's health care costs and negotiating as one powerful national pool for the lowest prices possible.

    And remember, the facts seem clear. Barrick isn't failing. It's got lots of cash to hand to shareholders, but not enough to fulfill basic obligations to past employees.

  4. Ken Santema 2012.11.10

    You must not work for one of the many small and medium businesses that are offering to reimburse as opposed to offering health insurance. Many are doing this through the use of a MERP, with both the employer and employee contributing to the plan. This is similar to how contributions are made to traditional corporate health plans. The big benefit of this is that employees can shop around and get the best insurance policy for their specific needs AND they still have this plan if they move on to a different employer. Due to South Dakota having few insurance providers this does make it harder in this state that some others.

    However Obamacare will basically kill that option, by forcing companies to reduce most workers to part-time. There are already signs of companies getting ready for this. And as you say this market does not work on choice: because people do not realize they have a choice. I'm not saying get rid of employer or government sponsored health insurance, I'm saying people should try to get themselves off it if possible. Is that possible for most Americans, probably not at this time. But those that can get out of the system should work hard to make it happen.

    There is a reason middle-class and rich people from single-payer countries come to the US for advanced medical care. The single-payer system becomes bureaucratic and important medical procedures have long waiting lists. With single-payer systems any semblance of choice is gone.

  5. Les 2012.11.10

    I have no love lost or otherwise for Barrick.

    They are a gutless company with a dirty board of directors to allow this corruption.

    That being said, could you back up the NSF timeline of pulling support with some facts David?

    NSF supported DUSEL long after the mine was flooded.

    Maybe the 2 Billion price tag and NSF walking on shaky funding had something to do with NSF tucking tail?

    I find it odd NSF would walk from a great opportunity because of something done years prior after choosing this mine to be the project.

  6. Rorschach 2012.11.10

    This will be an issue in the 2014 senate election. Mike Rounds agreed to have the taxpayers take over Barrick's environmental liability for the Homestake mine. Now Barrick does this to South Dakotans - potentially shifting people's healthcare costs to taxpayers as well. All while making huge profits. Other mines want to expand in the hills, yet they are not forced to post a bond large enough to cover environmental damage - again saddling taxpayers with their cost of doing business. It's just the Republican way in SD to socialize risk and privatize profits for corporations. Doesn't mean voters like it that way though - as we saw with RL 14

  7. JoeBoo 2012.11.10

    I think Rorschach hits it on the nail, if no one ever questions their activities why not continue to do them? They bought the "pay-dirt" and got a mine with it. They didn't want the cost to operate the mine so they flooded it. The state played footsy with itself and stalled and it ended up costing its elf much more then it should have. The state is the one to blame for these activities. They didn't protect the miners, or the mine, they let way too much go that shouldn't have. What are other mines doing now? Do they want to pay expensive reclamation?

  8. Stan Gibilisco 2012.11.10

    Every time I hear or read a story like this and find it credible, my political mind moves another millimeter to the left. So, I suspect, do the minds of millions.

    But you know, Cory, I don't think the people in the investor class give even so much as a millihoot what I, or you, or millions of other Americans think.

  9. John 2012.11.10

    If Barrack were a "person' we would frog march it, it's directors, and stockholders to the electric chair. Long live the corporation!!

  10. Jerry 2012.11.10

    Ken, I disagree with you about your claims on Obamacare in many ways, The first is your claim that there are just a few insurance companies that write business in South Dakota, how many do you want? The same number that is in North Dakota or where are you going with this? In the past, there were other insurance companies in South Dakota doing business. The state of South Dakota declared that those companies doing business in South Dakota must have a ratio of 80% claim to premium. Sound familiar, it should because that is what is demanded by all insurance companies now. South Dakota was ahead of the curve a decade ago. This has not made our state go off the cliff either, those companies that have stayed have been very busy and have been providing us with quality coverage and prices that are not much different than any other state with lax regulations regarding payment to claim and premium ratio.

    No company will reduce its workforce because of Obamacare if they are honest. This gold company is doing exactly what it can get away with. Remember, we had to pay for the cleanup of other mine operations. This is all about greed and not about healthcare. Speaking of yet another false flag, if you read any financial news, you will see that Applebees, for one, has gone through some difficult financial times because of poor management. They also say that they will cut back on hiring and the real reason is because they are loosing money without heathcare coverage. How can we honestly call ourselves
    Americans and watch our fellows suffer and loose it all because they did not have the resources to get a wellness exam. How many people do you know that this happened too? How many in your own circle of friends and relatives? Here is news, Obamacare is not even in full force yet, got that? Won't happen until 2014, so this is a non issue and a cover for stealing from workers.

    These folks will get a "voucher" to buy insurance for a year. That should sound familiar because Barrick drank the same kool-aid as the rest of the right wing. This is the Paul Ryan plan and how it would have worked for all of us. Can't wait to see the sorry amount they will pay out for insurance.

    I am not sorry at all that your guy lost the election and one of the things that will come from this loss is the fact that this kind of theft will not be allowed anymore. Stealing your pension should make you go to the jail and with the changes in Washington that are coming when new chairs are seated, we count on it.

    Something else on why people come to America for medical services, they pay a fortune for it and the rest of us do not have that kind of moolah. I guess that you have not heard of medical vacation spots. Check out Europe, UK for cancer, India for heart and Thailand for orthopedic and other good stuff. Also, check out Europe for dental work as well or Mexico. We have been getting fleeced here for far too long, time to level the playing field and get what we pay for. Drugs too, you can purchase the same drugs in Europe that you can here for about 75% less. I know I know, if these places are so good, why don't you move there, you are asking. Because I live here and here is where the change must begin for the good of us all. Don't be afraid, it is all good.

  11. Stan Gibilisco 2012.11.10

    Seems to me that this country went through a similar identity crisis (capitalism vs. socialism) during Teddy Roosevelt's administration. Fortunately, though tempted, the American people threw out the bath water but kept the baby.

    I don't think socialism is necessarily the solution to problems like this; governments can hose over the little people just as effectively as corporations can.

    I think the solution lies in more well-thought-out and enforced regulations to keep corporations from pulling stunts like this, and if they do try, there should be real consequences, such as confiscation of assets and jail time.

    Free enterprise rocks. Free-for-all enterprise sucks.

  12. Les 2012.11.10

    Note the lack of arrests, MF Global, Country Wide, JP Morgan, Goldman among many others as price fixers, market makers and flat out money takers as they clean out our holding accounts.

    Operatives throughout BC, GW and Obama. Yes Stan, the gov should protect its citizens.

  13. Ken Santema 2012.11.10


    I didn't say if it was bad or good that there are few choices in SD, only stated that there are few so it makes it harder to shop and compare plans from varying insurance providers. I moved from MN, which has about the same providers as SD. However we almost moved to Nebraska, which has more options. That is all that was meant there, having few options makes it harder to shop for individually funded plans.

    I disagree that companies reducing workforce hours will be done only out of dishonesty. I deal with small and medium businesses on a daily basis. I know many businesses in SD and MN that are barely surviving right now. Since they are not 'newsworthy' they do not get highlighted by the financial news. As an example one of these companies has almost 80 full-time employees. This company has run in the red for almost two years now, after over thirty years of profit. I know the owners personally and they have only taken their meager salary during this time-period. Suddenly having to provide health care to all employees would literally cause this company to close their doors. They do currently offer a MERP to help employees with their health insurance. However the company simply cannot afford to do more during these hard times. I can think of over a dozen company's I deal with on a regular basis that are in similar situations. Just because a company has to make tough choices it does not mean the owners are evil or greedy.

    And yes, the person I supported for president lost, but then that was anticipated. I supported Gary Johnson, not Mitt Romney. Romney implemented the failed plan Obamacare is based upon. Repealing Obamacare to implement Romneycare would have done nothing but change the name (actually Obama did make some minor improvements to Romney care).

    True Obamacare is not fully implemented. But companies have to plan ahead. And parts that have been implemented have already hurt people. For instance people who use a lot of Over-The-Counter drugs for their medical needs can no longer get these purchased with an FSA. This has caused people to get prescriptions for drugs that have OTC equivalents that would have worked just as good. And on that same line, doctors offices have had to spend millions of dollars meeting the new e-prescriptions requirements of ACA. The money going into meeting these requirements gets passed on to the cost of health care.

    Yes there are other countries that have single-issue advantages over the US. However overall the US medical system is the best in the world. But the more the medical insurance field gets regulated towards a single-payer system the incentives for advanced research are reduced. That would cause a net-loss for all; this includes those in UK, Thailand, India, etc...

    But, I still stick with my original position: Those that have the means to remove themselves from employer-based or government-based healthcare should do so. I'm not even saying get rid of those options. I'm just saying those with the means to get out of a sinking ship should do so!

    However I think everyone should keep their eyes on California. If a Democratic Super-majority there can prove that their healthcare plans can work and not drive the state into the ground I may actually change my mind.

  14. Les 2012.11.10

    Right on with able taxpayers Ken.

    I have customers from Alabama for example who get very reduced or minimal tax assessment on their home due to their age. They don't understand or feel good about that fact. If I'm able, I should pay.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.11

    Ken, may I ask where you get your health insurance? You make the individual market sound like a dream. I've purchased from the individual market for years. It stinks.

    Let's also keep in mind that the question of government-vs.-employer-vs.-individual coverage, while quite important, is also quite separate from the question of Barrick bailing on its commitment to former employees. Barrick made a deal with its workers. Those workers put in the labor that built Barrick's wealth and earned them the compensation of supplemental retirement coverage. Barrick is now refusing to pay what it owes. That's immoral under any system.

    Also a side issue but requiring mention: Ken's re-assertion of the "best care in the world" trope is bogus. We have the best care for the Romney 1% for whom money is no object. Other countries provide equal or better affordable care to a broader swath of their populations. They spend half as much per person, live as long or longer, and lose fewer babies to preventable maladies.

  16. Jerry 2012.11.11

    Thanks Ken for your point of view, I still disagree, but that is America. I am quite sure that you will change your mind in the very near future on how all of this will shake out. Obamacare may not be the complete answer, but universal health coverage is. Nebraska did not force the companies doing business in the state to pay the 80% loss ratio and that is why they stayed there. Less payout means more profits for the insurance company.

    As far as the company you mention in Minnesota, I have read this bill completely (all of those pages, all of them) and it looks to me like there will be some tax relief involved with all who have more than 50 employees, so that should off set the costs. Also, by having more people insured, the costs will drop as the exchanges and the like will add more insureds.

    The flex accounts were abused so badly that they needed reforms. Folks at the end of the year, with the use it or loose it, bought all kinds of over the counter stuff that was not needed and thereby, stole from themselves. This caused much headache for the employer, even though it was pre-taxed. It is all good, and you will be fine.

  17. Ken Santema 2012.11.11

    I didn't mean for this to go so far off track. I just wanted to mention briefly in my original post that relying upon employers (or government) for health insurance has its downsides. That seems relevant in this case. I do agree that this appears to be a case of corporate greed and they should be held accountable in courts.

    An no, the health insurance market is not a dream. I had to take a step down and choose BC/BS for my insurance in SD. I'm not as happy with this, but it is what it is. But by getting my insurance direct I get to choose a plan that does not rely upon me feeling obligated to keeping employment at one place just to keep that health insurance (right now I am self-employed, but even when I was an employee I stuck by this theory).

    I really do hope Obamacare will drop the cost of insurance for all. But I will remain skeptical. And yes I do stick by the US has the best health care systems in the world. However I also believe unintended consequences from government regulations and employer-based insurance has made the US one of the worse health insurance nations in the world.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.11

    No harm done, Ken; I'm easily distracted. But isn't it harder to get coverage on the individual market? And I'm still looking for the metrics saying our health care system produces better results for more citizens than other systems that spend less and provide universal coverage.

    Believe me, I'd be more than happy to release Barrick and every other business from the burden of providing health insurance. It seems odd that a school, a restaurant, and a department store should also have to become experts in health policy. Let them all off the hook. Let every employee simply pay wages, free them of the administrative overhead of choosing and managing health plans, and then just charge everyone a tax to pay for one universal and more efficient government coverage system. Barrick and I and everyone else would have more money in our pockets.

  19. Jenny 2012.11.11

    According to the World Health Organization, the USA ranks 37th on healthcare rankings, right below Costa Rica. We have the costliest healthcare system in the world. Ken, what studies are you referring too? (Of course, if you're rich, then you can afford the best care here.)

  20. Les 2012.11.11

    Jenny, the least of us can get very good care here.

    Brother got the latest greatest for prostate care in Tulsa with insurance.

    Friend of his with no insurance is receiving the latest greatest at Mayo.

    Tell me where you would find that care in Costa Rica?

  21. Les 2012.11.11

    No insurance and no money I might add.

Comments are closed.