Lifetime Health Care for 6 Years of Work
As a Warwickian, I’d be remiss not to call attention to the latest Hummel Report:
While unfunded public pensions have gotten the lion’s share of the headlines recently – the unfunded health benefit liability for retired employees is a much bigger problem here in Warwick, to the tune of more than $300 million. Part of the reason: promises made years ago to give lifetime health coverage to many – including city council members.
Warwick is one of a handful of communities in Rhode Island that offers city council members medical coverage. All but one of the 9-member council take it – seven have family plans.
And up until last year, if you served three consecutive terms on the council – or as mayor – you qualified for lifetime health benefits. That’s six years for lifetime health coverage.
That means taxpayers this year are paying for 16 former councilmen, mayors, or their widows – to the tune of more than $50,000.
Not a lot in the big picture, sure. But it’s the principle of the thing. Six years? Well, the current City Council has made some changes–exempting themselves, of course:
Council President Bruce Place said the council last year voted to eliminate the lifetime benefit for elected officials, saying it is a move toward reigning in the city’s obligations on healthcare costs across the board.
Place: “It’s one of the highest costs we incur, especially with retirees. I firmly believe that people that were hired by the city 20 years ago and retired, you don’t change the rules on them in the middle of it. But you have to be proactive and think ahead, you have to think about new contracts in the future. What you sign and what you don’t sign and we just can’t afford those kinds of benefits in the future.”
But what about benefits for current city council members? Employees of the city must work more than 20 hours to get the same benefit, but council member don’t punch a clock so it’s difficult to quantify how many hours they actually put in.
What is clear: The Blue Cross plan they receive is one of the best available. The council members now pay at least a 10 percent co-share; some volunteer to pay more.
Only in the public sector does “reform” mean providing full health-care coverage to employees who–if they worked any other place–would be considered part-time. Finally:
But the premiums are only part of the real cost of the benefit to the city and its taxpayers. The Hummel Report has learned that last year the claims against the city’s policy for the current council were more than a quarter of a million dollars.
Not surprising. If it’s “free” (or cheap), you’ll use it more. That’s how we got into the current health care mess. Private sector employees have been dealing with burgeoning costs and cuts in health care for at least a decade. It must be nice to work in the public sector where economic reality can be ignored.