ALBANY, Ga. -- More than 50 retired city of Albany employees crammed themselves into a room at the downtown Government Center Tuesday to show collective disapproval of a staff-recommended plan to stop monthly payments of $96.40 for Medicare Part B reimbursements to retirees older than 65.
City Human Resources Director Henry Cohen told Albany City Commissioners at their work session continued reimbursements for those eligible would cost the city's general fund almost $400,000 annually.
"The practice of reimbursing retirees for the Medicare Part B payments has been in effect since 1980," former City Clerk Joann Pope, who spoke on behalf of the retirees, told commissioners. "The city had decided to reduce its contribution of retirees' health care benefits to 50 percent, so the decision was made to reimburse the Medicare B payments made by employees."
At the time the initial decision was made, only a handful of employees were eligible for the reimbursements, which were only about $10 at the time. Now the reimbursements have risen to $99 -- although the city has capped its payments at $96.40 -- and Pope said more than 360 employees had surpassed age 65.
"Sixty of them are over 80," she said, "and eight of them are over 90. There's no way they can make up this money if you take it from them. Their incomes are fixed."
Cohen said only one of the 14 cities he polled reimbursed retirees for the Medicare B payments and that that city did not offer a health plan. He followed with four options for commissioners to consider:
- Ending reimbursements on Dec. 31;
- Phasing out the reimbursements over a two or three year period;
- Grandfathering in current retirees but stopping the reimbursements for other employees effective at the start of 2013; and
- If selecting option two or three, requiring post-65 employees to verify that they pay the premium.
Staff recommended utilizing Option 1, and Pope requested that the commission pass Option 3. After a period of discussion, Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta offered a motion to accept Option 3. Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard seconded, and after Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell suggested they table the matter until more information is available, the board voted to approve Option 3.
"It was a tough decision any way we went," Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said after the meeting. "This is another item that this board inherited, and there are turning out to be a number of those. But, at the end of the day, we ought to do what's right."
Also at the meeting, the city's federal lobbyist, Marion Turner with the MWW Group, hinted that the threatened implementation of sequestration in the absence of a federal spending bill, which would automatically kick in $1.2 trillion in tax cuts, could trigger another round of military base closings.
"They're saying it won't happen, but I wouldn't be surprised to see another BRAC discussion," Turner said. "I don't know how they would pay for everything with the cuts they're proposing under sequestration.
"In any case, the cuts would hit Albany doubly because of our military presence."