On Wednesday, the House Executive Departments and Administration (ED&A) Committee held hearings on a pair of bills that target health care for retired state employees, HB 653 and HB 645. The impact of the bills would be massive, affecting current retirees, those who have yet to retire, and those who’ve yet to start working for the state.
The first bill, HB 653, would require any Medicare-eligible state retirees to begin paying at least a 12.5 percent monthly premium — right now that would equate to $47 per person. The key words are at least, because that 12.5 percent is described as a minimum. The second bill, HB 645, would essentially eliminate the state retiree health benefit as it exists, instead giving retirees money to go out onto the open market to buy insurance. HB 653 would also eliminate the retiree health benefit for anyone starting work with the state after July 1 of this year.
Testimony ran the gamut, with many sharing their personal perspective and others pointedly telling lawmakers that cutting isn’t the only option — they can and should find new revenue sources. Chapter 1 member Mary Hillier was among those who testified in opposition to HB 653, and she made a fiscal argument. She said that while she could handle the added expense of a premium, at some point that change will impact her community.
“Our economy is hugely dependent on small businesses, and if I have to cut my spending, it’s going to be felt in at least a small way at the local store,” she said. “But when you magnify that by the others forced to make the same decision, the impact becomes significant.”
Hillier said active employees need to be aware of the massive impact these bills would have on them when it comes time for them to retire.
“If you’re an active employee, the language in HB 645 should absolutely scare you,” Hillier said.
There were many active employees in attendance on Wednesday, though many were there on their lunch hour and unable to stay.
Jane Vachon, a member of Chapter 47, was one of the active employees who was able to testify on Wednesday.
“I was there because our benefits package is so important to our quality of life,” Vachon said. “That’s part of what attracted people to state service. We’re here because we’re dedicated to the work we do, first and foremost, but we all have to live.”
In her testimony, Vachon noted that many state employee pensions are not very large, so cutting into the benefits would have a great impact.
“The average pension for state employees is around $13,000,” Vachon said. “That 12 percent could put a lot of retired state workers in a very difficult situation.”
She said as a current state employee, it’s demoralizing to see the state trying to cut benefits that many have long seen as a given. Worse, she said, cutting these benefits hurts the state’s ability to attract new employees in a very competitive job market.
“When you’re chipping away at these benefits, you’re crippling the state’s ability to attract the kind of talent that you need,” she said.
“State workers are the engine that runs New Hampshire,” Vachon said, “checking your wells for PCBs, monitoring for Zika. This is part of what gives New Hampshire its quality of life. That’s what’s at risk here when you start trying to save pennies by chipping away at a benefit that people had planned on.”
We’re thankful for all of the state employees who turned out, especially those who testified or submitted testimony, but we need you all to take the next step and contact the members of the ED&A Committee. You can find phone numbers for all committee members here: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/committeedetails.aspx?code=H07.