Employees oppose health insurance changes
by Sarah Fay Campbell
A large number of Coweta County public safety employees attended Tuesday’s meeting of the Coweta County Board of Commissioners to speak about proposed changes to health insurance benefits for retirees.
Proposals were discussed on May 29 at a county commission work session.
The issue was not on the agenda Tuesday. Instead, employees and retirees spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
John Kennedy, a 17 1/2 year employee with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office, said he chose his profession because he wanted to serve the public. He also wanted good benefits and insurance. “I made this choice knowing there would be a salary price to pay.”
“It’s not all about the numbers, but it is about the people and our commitment to each other.”
“When we were hired … we were told what to expect … what the job consisted of and its benefits, to include our health care, our retirement,” Kennedy said. “We were told that we would be rewarded for our longevity and dedicated service by receiving [what was promised in the county’s personnel manual].” And that included free health insurance for retirees with 25 years. Spouses of those with 25 years but less than 35 could pay for health insurance at the employee rate. Those with 35 years or more received free health insurance for themselves and their spouses.
Under the proposals discussed at last week’s work session, retirees who haven’t reached age 65 would still have to pay insurance premiums. Once employees reach 65, they enroll in Medicare and the county will pay for a Medicare supplement plan, which includes prescription drug coverage. No supplement plan would be available for spouses of those with less than 35 years of service. For those with 35 years of service, the county would pay a portion of the premium. Enrolling in Medicare is required under the current system, as well.
Kennedy said he would like to thank the current retirees for their service.
Reevaluating the benefits package for future employees “is the responsible thing to do,” said Kennedy. “But your point of change, in my opinion, is 2015.”
Ryan Foles agreed that changes need to be made going forward. “But I feel it is necessary to take care of those retirees” and to keep the policy in place for everyone who was hired “and promised that 25 years of service for this great county” would be rewarded with their health benefits being paid. “The men and women of Coweta County deserve this,” he said. It takes a special kind of person to run into burning buildings, to track down sex offenders, to work horrible accidents, he added.
“We’re just really concerned, as you can see,” said Jenny Lewis. “We worked for this benefit. We’re underpaid but we stay for the benefits.”
“I’m proud of y’all, because I see justice in your eyes,” Norma Haynes said to the commissioners. “Each and every one of you, and in your heart. Look around you. How can we ask for better people on this Earth than right here in Coweta County?”
“Nothing in my life has meant more to me than to serve this county,” said retired Deputy Fred Cox. “I just ask y’all to remember who you are and remember who we are.”
Public safety employees “work holidays, work 24 hour shifts. They miss birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and recitals. They meet natural disasters head-on and they confront evil on a daily basis,” Cox said. “All I’m asking you commissioners is to take care of us because, after all, we have been taking care of you.”
“We would very much appreciate y’all standing by what we felt like was a commitment,” said Coweta County Fire Department retiree Bob Briggs.
Denise Bray retired “a bit earlier than most people do” from the CCSO. She has some health problems and decided to get out of because of the stress. Knowing she had health insurance was a big part of why she was able to retire.
“To have it jerked out from under me when I’ve worked all these years for it … is really about to break my heart,” Bray said.
Stephanie Kennedy is the spouse of an employee. Public safety employees spend so much time away from their families. “The only thing that I ask is to let them have their retirement and let them have that time to enjoy their family instead of going back out to get another job to keep insurance for their family.”
Commissioner Rodney Brooks said he was committed to the county’s employees. He wanted to hear from employees about the changes, and “I’m proud that every one of you guys are here, just to have the passion.”
“We’re looking into possible changes,” Brooks said. “There is nothing that has been decided. As far as being stripped away, that is not even on the table as far as I’m concerned.”
“We’re just looking at some hard costs from a financial standpoint,” Brooks said. “Thank you for your service. Thanks for what you do."