SPRINGFIELD — Taxpayer-subsidized health care for retired state workers could end under legislation moving through the Illinois House.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — Taxpayer-subsidized health care for retired state workers could end under legislation moving through the Illinois House.

The measure, which passed out of the Illinois House Executive Committee on Wednesday without opposition, allows the Illinois Department of Central Management Services to set premium rates for state retirees, retired lawmakers, retired judges and retired university employees.

Now, after working 20 years, state employees can get 100 percent of their health care costs paid for by taxpayers.

State retirees with eight years of service can get 40 percent of their health insurance covered.

And taxpayers cover all health care costs for lawmakers who retire at the age of 62 or older and have served a minimum of four years.

The state is dishing out $876 million this year to cover health care for 78,000 former state employees, said House Republican Leader Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego.

“The goal here is to not eliminate health care coverage but to make sure it’s sustainable,” Cross said.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who is co-sponsoring this legislation with Cross, said this isn’t tied to the public pension reform talks. Instead, he framed the measure as responsible budgeting.

“It’s a significant step and a step we clearly ought to take, if for no other reason, to set the tone for the budget making for the next 30 days,” Madigan said.

Gov. Pat Quinn laid out a plan to fund Illinois’ ailing pension system fully in 30 years through reduced cost of living increases for future retirees and other measures.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31, the public union that represents most of the state state’s workforce, said the legislation interferes with the collective bargaining process now under way. AFSCME Council 31 and Quinn are negotiating a new contract. The current one expires this summer.

The AFSCME Council 31 Legislative Director Joanna Webb-Gauvin said retiree health benefits have been viewed as compensation.

“This has always been a part of the collective bargaining process and we’re in opposition because we feel that process is being violated,” Webb-Gauvin said.

Beyond having an unfunded pension liability of $83 million, the state also has $54 billion in unfunded retiree health care liabilities, according to the Illinois Policy Institute, a right-of-center think tank.

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