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Illinois retirees cry foul over possible health premiums

Darlene Edwards worked for 18 years in Illinois’ public health system and says, for all that, she now gets by with a pension check for barely $300 a month. She collects Social Security and pays most of the same health care costs that other people do, with one exception: premiums.

Right now, the state picks up all of Edwards’ healthcare premiums, and it does the same for the other 78,000 or so state retirees. The annual tab approaches $900 million.

Senate Bill 1313 would change that by forcing retirees to pick up more of the premium costs.

Though supporters of the change haven’t settled on exactly how much of the cost will be shifted to retirees, Edwards thinks any change would be unfair. She says the state agreed to the current setup when negotiating with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, the state’s largest government-employee union.

“Many people think that the state retirees get everything free on their health. That is not so,” Edwards said Thursday at the AFL-CIO state headquarters across from the Illinois Statehouse. “The legislature got us into this mess by spending our pension money on pork projects. And now we don’t have anything left in the fund that we have paid for.”

AFSCME says most retirees pay on average $3,000 a year for healthcare-related costs.

But Senate Bill 1313 has already cleared the Senate and is making its way through the House. It’s receiving bipartisan support.  

The Democratically-controlled House Executive Committee approved the bill earlier this week.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross is in support, too, saying the legislation will make retiree healthcare coverage sustainable.

AFSCME is currently in contract talks with the state. Its current contract expires at the end of June.

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