A good pause to weigh state retiree health care costs

Retired state employees are understandably concerned whenever lawmakers consider changes in what’s called the Retiree Health Benefit Fund. The fund provides the state’s share of retiree premiums to the State Health Plan.

It’s a good benefit to be sure and one that state employees consider a part of their overall compensation, which in many cases is less than many would receive in private industry. Job security is another such benefit.

Lawmakers have been considering a proposal to shift coverage for Medicare-eligible retirees to Medicare Advantage plans that are available through private companies. That would move state costs to the federal government. It also would save the state $64 million a year. But many retirees made their objections known, and now the proposal has been pulled back. The retirees worry that Medicare Advantage might not be suited to their needs.

The stall seems appropriate at this point. But in the long term, the state is going to have to consider cost-saving alternatives. As it stands, the state’s liability over 30 years to the health fund is estimated at more than $25 billion. And the projection is based on more people retiring. The state also funds the benefits from the fund when they are needed, rather than funding them ahead of time, when people are working.

The state is going to have to do something, which may mean more taken from paychecks to meet the long-term obligation, or reducing benefits. Lawmakers are going to have to work toward a solution, just as the federal government has to periodically work to ensure the viability of Social Security and Medicare. Solutions can be found, but sacrifices will have to be made.