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Retired teachers speak out against health Insurance program cuts

Retired Illinois teacher Patsy Sherrard of Normal, speaking at March 2 press conference at the state Capitol. PHOTO/ D. Janell Perry

SPRINGFIELD –The only thing many retirees would like to worry about after decades of working is the vacation destination they’ll choose to relax.

This isn’t the case, however, for many retired educators in the state.

Members of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association are demanding that Gov. Bruce Rauner not go forward with proposed health insurance cuts in his 2017 budget.

“We’re here today to sound the alarm regarding Gov. Rauner’s proposed budget that would be catastrophic to retired educators,” said Dave Davison, the association’s president, speaking to reporters earlier this month at the state Capitol.

Rauner’s proposed budget eliminates state funding to the Teachers’ Retirement System’s group health insurance plan. The state is legally required to pay $3.7 billion annually to TRS. The association estimated that the governor’s action would, at a minimum, double healthcare costs for members of the Teacher Retirement Insurance Program (TRIP).

“Teachers,” Davison said, “again are being made the scapegoats for budget problems created by decades of politicians, both Democratic and Republican, not fully funding a teaching pension fund, TRS (Teachers Retirement System) and any other public pension fund.”

Speaking at a March 2 press conference at the state Capitol, James Bachman, a spokesperson for the IRTA, noted that retired educators are paying health insurance coverage premiums ranging from $42 to $793.

Bruce V. Rauner, governor-elect of Illinois, waves to the audience during his introduction at his inauguration ceremony in Springfield, Ill., Jan. 12, 2015. As Illinois' governor, Rauner will serve as the commander in chief for the Soldiers and Airmen of the Illinois National Guard while they are not under federal activation. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer/Released)
Gov. Bruce Rauner. PHOTO/ Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer, 2015

“They are participating,” Bachman, said. “Part of TRIP is also that school districts and active teachers pay in.”

The state, he added, contributes about 24 percent to the program, which has an estimated $451 million in funding. But under Rauner’s proposed budget, the state will no longer be responsible for this amount.

Instead, Rauner has proposed to fully fund the state’s “foundation level” education for schools and students.

“The people actually impacted by this taught these politicians’ parents; they taught the politicians and now they’re teaching the politicians’ children,” Davison said. “Instead of working in ways to eliminate state funding of this group health insurance plan, the state must find a revenue stream to adequately fund the benefit systems.”

Retired teacher and IRTA member Patsy Sherrard said the governor’s action is “disrespectful to all retired teachers.”

“I am struggling. I am 76-years-old with serious health issues,” Sherrard, a resident of Normal, said.

Sherrard told reporters she is a breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor.

“Although presently in remission, the threat of cancer’s return is always lurking,” said Sherrard, with tears in her eyes. “Retirees didn’t cause the budget crisis and we should not be expected to rescue the state from this budget mess.”

Bachman said the governor’s decision to cut funding from the retired teachers insurance program conflicts with his choice to make K-12 education funding a top priority.

“I think it’s the total opposite,” Bachman said. “I truly believe if you’re in total support of education, you’re not only going to support the educators that are out there today, but the educators that were out there in the past and the benefits they were promised.”

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