Municipal employees here and everywhere spend lifetimes building up pensions. Part of the promise of working for the city besides one’s pension has been cheap health insurance largely paid for by the city.
However, the days of cheap health insurance are gone. Cities and towns stretched financially by the economic downturn are struggling to meet pressing budget obligations against a back drop of health insurance premium increases that are mind-boggling.
If you are a retired municipal employee existing on a fixed income – your pension – then news that your health insurance premiums are about to double are beyond depressing.
The news is terrorizing for how are you going to make up the difference when your pension goes so far?
The Monday night slugfest at City Hall, where hundreds of angry pensioners about to have their health insurance premiums increased dramatically tried to have their say, is symptomatic of the interest that will be shown on this issue – and it is an issue that will not go away or be easily fixed.
City Manager Jay Ash said he is willing to talk with the city’s retirees to seek out a solution to the problem.
The retirees have been remiss in not having these discussions before the city was set to act.
And if it wasn’t for Councillor Stan Troisi’s cool thinking Monday night, and for Ash’s willingness to concede that the increase can wait another three months, Chelsea’s municipal retirees would have already suffered this increase.
As it is, the increase is going to go into effect unless and until union members here get the message that the city needs to join the state mandated GIC, the statewide group insurance giant that offers those municipalities who join under its umbrella, tremendous savings.
Chelsea’s savings could as much as $3 million if the city joins the GIC.
There is the belief that these drastic proposed increases for health insurance contributions from retirees might be put off for a good long time or eliminated entirely for quite some time if the city’s unions agree to join the GIC.
What is even scarier about this situation is that the city’s current employees are going to face the same plight as the retirees unless something drastic is done to make-up the difference between what the city can afford to pay and what is needed to end this crisis.
The days of the city paying 75% of your health insurance premiums are slipping away.
All of us in government and in the private sector face a brave new world with rising premiums for health insurance that no one can afford to pay.
In the last analysis, this is what the debate is about in Washington where the senate is now deciding whether or not to embark on a major health insurance overhaul, or go broke as a nation trying to sustain the broken system.
Make no mistake, the system is broken.
The meeting Monday night proved it.