Retiree insurance benefits safe for now

Published 8:03 am Wednesday, June 10, 2015

After weeks of discussions, workshops and seminars, Orange County retirees can breath safely knowing their benefits will not change at this time.
County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton and Commissioner Pct. 2 Barry Burton asked Human Resources Director  Minnie Hightower for information requested from Texas Association of Counties (TAC) for the court to make an informed decision.
Questioned asked during a previous public workshop concerned how many counties in Texas offered insurance for retirees, how many switched between the active plan and the supplemental plan, and data concerning the Tier Four prescription plan.
Hightower said TAC was trying to pull the data for the Tier four plan, however currently there was no data.
According to TAC, 72-percent of the counties in Texas do not offer health insurance for county retirees.
Commissioner Pct. 3 John Banken said he was not concerned with what other counties do.
“I care about what Orange County does,” Banken said. “We have a moral obligation to these people who have worked 30 years for the county. I care and have compassion for these people. Now is not the time to do away with what we are doing. We have not received the information we need. We need to leave it as is this year and give the court to get the information needed.”
Carlton said Banken was not alone in caring about the retirees,
“We are not talking about doing away with the insurance,” Carlton said. “We are talking about changing insurance.”
Commissioner Pct. 1 David Dubose said the change should be made when a person retires not after they retire.
“This plan was promised to them,” Dubose said. “They planned their retirement and then to take it away? They budgeted when they would retire when they did.”
Commissioner Pct. 4 Jody Crump said the board would meet June 28.
“Next year, Tier Four could be implemented state wide,” Crump said.
Burton agreed it could be coming.
One area of concern in the supplemental plan is the prescription plan requiring those on Tier Four medications to have $4,700 out of pocket prior to dropping down to five-percent cost.
“We keep hearing we need to save money,” Banken said. “But we don’t do it. Leave the retirees insurance as it is. The court can decide about future people who retire and make a policy change.”
Burton said he set up a spreadsheet to compare prescription costs under the current plan and the suggested supplemental plan.
“There is a seven fold increase to the cost,” Burton said.
District Clerk Vickie Edgerly said the Tier Four medications were not just for major illnesses.
“Basic medications are also classified as Tier Four,” Edgarly said. “One medication is $3,000 a month. Paying 33-percent is approximately $1,000 a month. A $50 co-pay now hits the budget. I have looked at the book and some are very basic medications.”
An unidentified female retiree said medication for diabetes falls under the Tier Four plan.
“My $60 co-pay per quarter would change to $120 for four different medications every three months, times four.”
The deadline for a decision was June 8, 2015 for the plan/policy to go into effect October of this year.
The Silver Plan would have created a $223,000 savings for the county according to TAC representatives at a previous workshop.