The following is the prepared testimony President Rich Gulla delivered Tuesday, May 2, at the Senate hearing on the budget (HB 144 and HB 517):
Mr. Chairman and honorable members of the Senate Finance committee, my name is Richard Gulla and I am president of the NH State Employees’ Association, SEIU Local 1984. We represent over 10,000 state, county and municipal employees in collective bargaining. I am here however to testify about the over 9,000 state retirees who are relying on you as stewards not of any collective bargaining agreement, but of an agreement made to these employees by the state the day they were hired and throughout their careers. It was the promise of a fully paid health benefit in retirement in acknowledgement of the fact that while they may have better paying options in the private sector, a career with the state meant that they could count on health care in retirement.
Over the course of the last 8 years, early retirees have had their health benefit go from fully paid, to $65/month to 12.5% to 17.5% and even talk about raising that even further. Meanwhile all retirees have seen their cost sharing go up on the deductible side as well as on prescription drugs.
The Governor’s proposal would set a 10% floor on the over 65 group which includes retirees all the way up to over 100 years old. Many of the retirees in this group have been retired for well over 20 or 30 years and in no position to raise their income to accommodate such a change after a career and now a lifetime of planned stability in their health care costs. Having a 10% premium thrust upon this group threatens their ability to keep and afford their health plan at all.
According to the NH Retirement System, the average pension for a state employee is currently $13,823. This budget proposal could cost the average retired state workers one full month of their fixed-income. These retirees have not seen a cost of living increase in their pension since 2009, so their ability to keep up with a 10% and rising floor of a premium will be extremely challenging to nearly impossible.
I would also respectfully remind the committee that the state has done away with the under-65 retiree health plan. That has a date certain that it will no longer exist. So as the state operates to try and recruit and retain workers, what will it offer to compete with private industry. I would suggest that this benefit needs to be maintained so that the state can stand behind its word when it touts this as a benefit that workers can count on.
I appreciate the work that this committee and the senate has done in the past to help mitigate the financial impact of rising costs on state retirees. I know that each member of this committee recognizes the contribution these workers have made to our state and will do their best to work on this issue and you have my commitment that I will work with you to best serve this group so that we can honor the promises made to them.
I look forward to working together so that we can hopefully give some security and certainty to our state retirees who year over year constantly wonder what will the state of their health care be and will they be able to afford it. Thank you.
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