Last Friday, roughly 350 State Retirees and active employees filled Representatives Hall in the State House for a hearing on proposed changes to the State Retirees’ health benefits.
The NH Fiscal Committee had called the meeting, which was facilitated by Representative Neal Kurk (R) from Weare. Kurk began the meeting by informing attendees that telling the committee “that things should stay the way they are would not be helpful;” rather, they should “let the committee know which of the proposed changes would be the least harmful to them.”
Dept. of Administrative Services (DAS) Commissioner Vicki Quiram and Cassie Keane, Director of Risk & Benefit for DAS, reviewed the proposed options the Fiscal Committee could choose with those sitting in the packed room. You can review the document they distributed here.
The presentation laid out over 50 options to shift the costs of their benefits from the state to the backs of the retirees. There were proposals for increased premium costs; increased deductibles for medical and prescriptions; higher out of pocket maximums; and increased co-pays for medical visits and prescriptions. None of these options could be considered “easiest” for the fixed income retirees.
Early on it was revealed that the current budget covers all costs for the plan through June 30, 2017; and the money needed for the retirees’ health benefit has been budgeted for in the State Fiscal budget 2018/2019. Representative Lynn Ober said, “We fully funded retiree health care until June 30. You have budgeted for retiree health in the next budget. The Fiscal Committee does not have to take any action.”
For nearly two hours, retirees, active employees and legislators provided testimony explaining their current financial circumstances. The first testimony was offered by retired SEA/SEIU Local 1984 former President , John Amrol. “We are facing some real hard times. Our rents, costs of living are all going up. We have seen no COLA’s . We cannot afford any increases in what we pay for our benefits,” he said. “In fact, we cannot afford what we are currently paying.”
Current SEA President Rich Gulla was the next to speak. Rep. Kurk interrupted Gulla during his impassioned remarks, telling him he had gone over his time limit. Gulla, who did not hear Kurk, continued until his testimony was concluded. Gulla’s testimony drew applause from the attendees. Kurk then instructed the people in the room to not applaud again, as it was not proper behavior for a hearing. This writer has attended many hearings in which applause happened and did not draw comments. But, what can you expect from someone who infamously said that “the problem with the NH Pension System is that people live too long. We’d be better off if we could get them to pick up smoking and they would die younger.”
Rep. Howard Moffett (D) from Merrimack stated that the “net result of not having these options available until this afternoon is unfair.” He also said that the majority of the people in the room were just now seeing the options and inviting their immediate input was not only not fair, but also not feasible. Rep. Kurk then invited all to provide their feedback to the Committee members prior to the next Fiscal Committee meeting on October 14.
Dennis D’Ovidio, state retiree and current candidate for the NH House of Representatives, was the first of many who spoke to bring up the fact that at the time many current retirees were hired they were promised fully paid health benefits after retirement. “ln 1976 I began employment with the State of NH and worked for just shy of 34 years in the State’s institutions doing work most people would not care to do,” he said. “For many of those years my income was below that of the private sector, but my employer made it clear that if I kept my focus on the future my retirement package would make up for the lower wages received. That package included health benefits provided by the state of NH. I do not recall receiving a notice at any time during my employment that this would be changed. My point being, promises and commitments were made to me and hundreds of others like me. We fulfilled our obligations to our employer those many decades working. Why is it that our past employer does not feel obligated to keep true to their commitments and promises to those employees now retired?”
Senator Dan Feltes (D), Concord, testified that “I have had the pleasure of representing many current and retired state employees. The next Governor should fully fund Retirees’ Health Benefits. That will be my vote.”
No hearing would have taken place had Sen. Feltes’ sponsored bill not passed last session. His bill, which became law called for a public hearing to take place before any action that would result in changes to NH State Retirees’ health benefits. Prior to that, the NH Joint Fiscal Committee had the authority to act without any public testimony.
The Fiscal Committee will be meeting on October 14th. If any changes are requested from the Dept. of Administrative Services for that meeting, we will let you know. If you would like to send comments to the members of the Fiscal Committee, you can find their contact information here.
Save the Date
Support our members who are running to replace Rep. Neal Kurk in Weare on October 8 at 10:00 a.m. for a canvass. More information regarding logistics will follow. If you plan to participate please let us know by contacting Laurie Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org or (603) 271-3411 x101.