SPRINGFIELD — In 2002, after more than two decades in the trenches as a teacher within the state prison system, Jim Dooley took the state up on an offer to retire early.
Part of his decision, he said Thursday, was based on a promise that he wouldn’t have to pay health insurance premiums.
But under a proposal moving through the House, Dooley and an estimated 114,000 retirees, dependents and survivors would have to start paying some or all of their health insurance premiums as part of a way for the state to save money.
“It would just be devastating to our household,” the Bloomington resident said. “If we had to pay the entire amount, it would be $1,400 per month.”
Dooley was among more than a dozen retired state employees who gathered Thursday at a union hall across the street from the Capitol to raise awareness of legislation supported by legislative leaders and Gov. Pat Quinn.
House Speaker Michael Madigan and House Minority Leader Tom Cross say the $876 million cost of paying for employee health insurance premiums is unsustainable at a time when the state can’t pay its bills.
Legislation allowing a state benefits administrator to set the health insurance premium rate for retirees is pending in the full House. Quinn is hopeful of passage as he meets with labor unions to discuss the terms of a new contract. The current collective bargaining agreement expires June 30.
Don Todd, a former employee of the shuttered Lincoln Developmental Center in Lincoln, said he retired from state government believing his health insurance premiums would be covered by the state.
“It’s just a bad faith commitment on the part of the state,” Todd said. “It would be an enormous burden on me and many state retirees if this goes through.”
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union said the cost of retiree health insurance should be negotiated by the union and the governor’s office, rather than allowing a state agency to set the rates.
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AFSCME estimates retirees already spend an average of $3,000 on out-of-pocket costs for things such as doctor visits and prescription co-pays.
Like Dooley and Todd, many of the former workers and survivors said they and their spouses accepted lower wages at state jobs in exchange for the benefit of free health insurance premiums in retirement.
“We worked year after year on a promise that was made to us,” said Barbara Franklin, a retired university worker from Rantoul.
The legislation is House Bill 1313.