Neuman pulls health care proposal to make way for Benoit bill

Less than a week after proposing sweeping change to address what she called an "unsustainable" retiree health care system for county employees, Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman has withdrawn her plan.

As soon as Neuman's bill was introduced at Monday's County Council meeting in Annapolis, it was withdrawn at her request to make way for a proposal by County Councilman Jamie Benoit, who like Neuman is calling for longer terms of service before employees are eligible for health care in retirement, and also changes in county contributions for such plans.

Neuman said she pulled her bill because she felt having two bills would be confusing. She said she'll consider supporting Benoit's measure if some adjustments are made.

For a week Neuman, a Republican, has sounded the alarm that county government can't afford to pay for the current health benefit system for retired workers. She sent a letter to county workers last week warning county government could be on a "path to bankruptcy" if changes weren't made. She said the county spends about $100 million annually on health care for current and retired employees, but need another $110 million annually for future health care costs.

Currently, most employees earn health insurance in retirement after five years of working for the county, and the county pays 80 percent of the cost. Public safety employees, such as police officers and firefighters, earn retiree health insurance after 20 years.

Neuman and Benoit took some similar approaches in trying to deal with the issue. Neuman's bill would have lengthened how long it takes for most county workers to earn benefits, and would set a scale for how much the county would pay based on the years the employee has worked.

Benoit's bill would lengthen the time to earn insurance from five years to 10 years for non-public safety employees and sets a slightly different scale for how much the county pays. His bill also requires the county executive to set aside money in the budget each year to pay for retiree health costs.

Benoit said his bill would save the taxpayers $22 million to $30 million per year, and he thinks he'll get support from employee unions.

The County Council will hold a public hearing on the bill on Nov. 4.

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