State proposes cuts to retiree drug coverage
June and Clarence Scheer talk about proposed changes for state employee health and prescription benefits. (By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer)
Gov. Martin O'Malley is proposing to raise the amounts current and former state workers must pay. The increase would be much sharper for retirees, including the Scheers.
They and other riled-up retirees are contacting state lawmakers.
"Everywhere I go, people are in tears, and that breaks my heart," Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said Friday.
The Scheers, who live in the Fountain Head neighborhood near Hagerstown, said Del. Andrew A. Serafini and Sen. Christopher B. Shank have been responsive and sympathetic, too.
Currently, active and former state employees pay a maximum of $700 a year for prescription-drug costs through a tiered co-payment system, according to the state Department of Budget and Management.
The new plan, outlined in the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2011, is to raise the out-of-pocket limit to $1,000 for individual employees and $1,500 for families.
Retirees would pay up to $4,550.
Clarence Scheer said the proposed burden is unfair.
"You can't literally take the retirees and throw them away and say, 'We're done with you,'" he said.
The new prescription plan would have retirees cover a $310 deductible, then pay 25 percent of the remaining costs until the $4,550 limit. After that, the state would pay 100 percent.
Donoghue and Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said legislators are trying to scale back the proposed increases.
"I think it's a pretty big hit on retirees," Edwards said.
The BRFA bill, as it is known, proposes changes to a wide range of areas, such as state employee benefits, economic development and education.
It was heard in the House and Senate budget committees last week.
Part of the BRFA bill addresses the state's systems for pension and retiree health coverage. Combined, they're unfunded by an estimated $35 billion, according to the governor's office.
O'Malley, a Democrat, has proposed making employees pay more into the system.
Unions are objecting to the changes and have planned a major rally in Annapolis on March 14.
The Scheers said retirees don't have the same advocacy network and are learning about changes on their own.