Quinn targets retired teachers for benefit cuts
By Anthony Brino
SPRINGFIELD — Retired teachers and community college employees could face higher health-care premiums as Gov. Pat Quinn pushes for Illinois to stop its contributions — a taxpayer savings of about $90 million a year.
However, state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, who's been appointed by House Democrats to negotiate budget issues with Quinn, said eliminating the state's portion would face scrutiny and resistance.
"The proposal came up last year, too. I didn't support it then," said Mautino.
He said the House General Services Committee would discuss Quinn's suggestion before it becomes a legislative proposal. The General Assembly would have to approve the new rates.
Quinn's proposal would affect:
More than 70,000 retired educators and their dependents. The cut could raise their health insurance premiums by 20 percent. Cost savings would be about $85 million.
Roughly 6,000 retired community college employees. The cut would require them to pay about 25 percent more. Cost savings would be about $4.5 million.
Retired teachers now pay about 50 percent of their health-care premiums, with school districts contributing 14 percent, and the federal government 6 percent, on top of the state's payment.
Retired community college employees pay about 25 percent of their health-care premiums, with the state paying 75 percent, some of which comes from payroll contributions from community colleges and employees.
Kelly Kraft, a spokeswoman for Quinn's budget office, said the governor is willing to negotiate new payment rates.
The ideal situation would be retired teachers paying more gradually, said James Bachman, executive director of the Illinois Retired Teachers' Association, a nonprofit retired educators organization.
"We understand that the state's going through a tough time," Bachman said. "Retired educators understand that their costs are going to go up, but cutting out all state support would create a lot problems."
Karen Dirst taught fifth- and sixth-grade language arts in the Channahon School District, southwest of Joliet, for more than 30 years. Dirst said she pays about $186 each month for her share of health insurance, with the remainder covered by Medicare.
"We would expect it to go up 5 percent, but not 20 percent," said Dirst, who's also president of the Grundy County Retired Teachers' Association.
At 65, Dirst said that although she has arthritis, she considers herself in good health, and thinks her monthly premiums are fair.
But most retired teachers don't have Medicare, because they started teaching before public teachers were brought into the Social Security system, said Bachman, and they're paying upward of $500 a month for health insurance.
Mike Monaghan, executive director of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association, an organization of community college employees, said retirees would be willing to pay more for their premiums, but cutting state support immediately would be unfair.
State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinkley, said he wants the state to save money but still contribute some funding toward health insurance, at least for now.
Pritchard criticized the governor's plan because it lacks a transition period.
"The governor has proposed a lot of things that aren't well thought out," he said." Defunding would be irresponsible in the short term. We need to fix these problems long term."
The retired teachers' insurance program excludes teachers from Chicago school districts, which has its own system of pensions and health-care funding.