City Schools Retirees Lose Health Insurance Subsidy
STEVEN GOODE and JEFFERY B. COHEN
June 12, 2009
Retired Hartford school and municipal employees were saved from having their health insurance payments jacked up — in some cases tripled — a year ago.
Some of them won't be so lucky this time.
Retired teachers over the age of 65 and noncertified school and board of education retirees learned this week that a subsidy from the school district that had kept their insurance premiums low will be ending, and for some the cost will be onerous.
In the case of Amelia O'Brien, who worked in the city's schools for 19 years, the additional costs will eat up her monthly pension check and then some.
"I'll owe $77 every month," O'Brien said.
District officials say they understand that people affected by the change are upset, but with a $3 million budget reduction to address and hard financial times expected to continue, providing what they estimate is a $2.3 million subsidy just isn't possible anymore.
"They're supposed to be paying their own way. The costs haven't always been put to them, but they are now," said Jill Cutler Hodgman, interim co-director of human resources for the Hartford Board of Education. "The superintendent has made it clear that this isn't a burden we could continue to absorb."
The decision didn't sit well with Phyllis Kornfeld, chairwoman of a coalition of retired city employees. Kornfeld spent 25 years in Hartford working as a paraprofessional, nine of them as president of the union.
Kornfeld, who joined a group of other retirees in a protest in front of city hall Thursday, said the insurance agreement with the district had been in place since 1992 and was sealed with a handshake.
"The language said we'd be offered health care, but we assumed at a decent rate," said Kornfeld, whose monthly insurance payment will go from $298 to $516 under the revised plan.
Kornfeld was also angry that the school district decided to target a specific group of retirees — unlike the city, which kept all its retirees in the same pool, resulting in drastically smaller individual increases for them.
According to Richard Pokorski, the city's benefits administrator, the city has opted to pay some of the estimated claims costs for its retirees. That amounts to $1.2 million.
But the board of education, he said, decided otherwise. Instead of subsidizing its retirees, the board decided to have its retirees split the cost. That will save the board roughly $1.5 million next year, Pokorski said.
"The superintendent has decided to basically have the retirees over 65 pay for their entire expected claims for the upcoming fiscal year," Pokorski said.
Pokorski has heard the argument that retirees spent their working years subsidizing the retired — only to get stiffed when it's their turn.
But, he said, "nobody thought that health care costs were going to skyrocket to such magnitude."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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