Independence council approves budget; retiree health insurance benefits hang in balance

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – The future of health insurance for retirees who used to work for the City of Independence may not be known until this fall.

On Monday, the city council approved a budget that calls for changes to its retirement insurance plan.

But the council also unanimously passed a resolution for a special insurance advisory committee, in hopes of addressing concerns by those impacted.

Sandi and Dean Mosley are among some 1,500 former employees and spouses who believe the city is balancing its budget “on the back of retirees.”

“It’s going to cost us,” Sandi Mosley said. “We pay the city, our premium, $182.84. We will be paying almost $300 in premiums.”

“We have good insurance now, and we paid for it,” her husband added.

Dean worked for the water department for 30 years. The 73-year-old said he took pay cuts over the years to ensure him and his wife would be covered by the city’s insurance plan, known as Stay Well, long after retirement.

“If they drop us or drop the whole thing, then if I pass away, she has nothing,” he said.

The newly passed budget calls for cuts to retirement health insurance that will save the city an estimated $5 million annually.

Zach Walker, the city manager, wants retirees over the age of 65, along with their dependents, to move to a Medicare supplement plan and use the city’s insurance as a secondary source.

“Retirement health insurance is such a unique offering among public and private employers,” Walker said. “In fact, when we were doing our work on the budget, we found that only 18% of employers nationwide are offering retired health insurance in some form or fashion.”

Walker said tough decisions had to be made in order to make up for a $3.5 million deficit, without further cutting city jobs and services.

“I do understand the moral argument that people are making, so what we’re trying to do is find that sweet spot between providing responsible and comprehensive coverage for these retirees but also making sure we have the funding in place to provide the basic services that our citizens rely upon us for,” he said.

Walker said no one would lose their insurance.

“Business will continue as usual,” he said. “Coverage will remain the same for all city employees, all pre-65 retirees and all of our Medicare-eligible retirees.”

Walker is hoping that a Special Health Insurance Review Committee, authorized by the council to review Medicare plan options, will alleviate some concerns by those who opposed the city’s decision.

“We’ve had a lot of good conversations,” he said. “That committee will go and review options that are out on the marketplace, assess their coverage, the cost of those and eventually make recommendations.”

Kirk Stobart, president of Professional Firefighters of Independence Local 781, thinks the committee is a “sign of good faith.”

“It lets them have their time to look into the plan changes, see what’s best, what’s going to hurt and what’s not going to work and let the system work like it should,” Stobart said.

However, he said discussions surrounding the issue should’ve happened months ago.

“Most people come here for the benefits,” he said. “We’re not the highest paid. We’ve committed our entire lives, our careers and we felt like this was really an attack to take that away from us.”

The Mosleys warned that all employees – retired or not – should be worried.

“We’re all in this program together, so this will be a domino effect and it will affect them eventually,” Sandi Mosley said.

The SHIRC will consist of nine members: three representatives from Stay Well, three City Manager designees and three retirees. The committee have until October 14 to present its recommendations to the city council.

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