Unhappy retirees face reduction in benefits

  • County workers listen to administrators outline new changes in funding for medical benefits for retirees at the Veteran's Buidling in Santa Rosa on Friday morning.

About 300 Sonoma County government retirees filled a hall at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building today to hear how the county plans to shift costs of health premiums, a move that will result in many paying more for their medical care insurance.

The 2?-hour informational meeting set up a showdown on Aug. 19 before county supervisors on the proposed restructuring of health benefits.

If implemented, it would affect 2,400 retired workers beginning next June. However, the changes also mirror to a great extent the county administration?s proposals to the rest of the 4,200 people currently employed at the county, including those in unions, non-union staff and managers.

A final decision is up to the 5-member Board of Supervisors, which had directed county administrators to come up with plans to reduce future commitments to health care coverage. The county currently is putting about $20 million annually into health plan premium costs for retirees and employees, which is about $17 million short of what?s needed. The gap over 30 years is expected to grow to cumulative $414 million, according to an actuarial analysis performed by a company under contract with the county.

Administrators attempting to explain how the changes would affect retirees were interrupted several times by former workers who shouted that their proposals were unfair and constituted the county reneging on promises of future health care.

Jim Andersen, assistant county administrator, told the assembly that supervisors want to preserve health care for retirees, but are forced to cut back the amount of money the county contributes because of mounting costs.

?At some point, it is going to collapse and all future boards will have to look to pare that away,? Andersen said. ?We recognize that there were expectations ...

?No ? promises, not expectations,? several in the audience shouted.

Currently, the county pays 85 percent of a retiree?s health plan premium. It proposes to phase in over five years a change that would result in retirees getting $500 a month for their medical premiums.

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