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State House targets health care costs

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SPRINGFIELD – State retirees may have to begin paying a portion of their health insurance premi-ums under a plan approved by the Illinois House Wednesday.

The proposal, which is one piece of Gov. Pat Quinn’s controversial overhaul of state employee benefits, affects as many as 114,000 former state workers, their dependents and survivors.

The measure, which advanced to the Senate for further debate on a 74-43 vote, is designed to chip away at the nearly $800 million cost to provide retirees with free health insurance premiums. It would affect former state employees, including lawmakers, judges and university workers.

It would give the Quinn administration the power to set how much retirees would pay toward their premiums. The plan could allow former employees earning less in retirement to pay lower rates than their more well-heeled pensioners.

The health insurance issue is just one piece of an overhaul of state finances that could include scaling back employee pensions, cutting Medicaid costs and closing state facilities.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, urged lawmakers to vote “yes,” suggesting that it will be just the first of many hard votes in the coming weeks.

“If we can’t do this, what in the world are we going to be able to do?” Madigan asked.

State Reps. Dan Brady of Bloomington and Mike Bost of Murphysboro, both of whom represent thousands of former state and university workers, said they were conflicted about the proposal, but ended up voting in favor of it.

“Folks realize we’re up against a wall,” Bost said.

Members voting “no” included state Reps. Adam Brown of Decatur, Bill Mitchell of Forsyth, Rich Morthland of Cordova, Brandon Phelps of Harrisburg, David Reis of Willow Hill, Chapin Rose of Mahomet, Keith Sommer of Morton and Pat Verschoore of Milan.

The governor’s office said without the change, retirees could be in jeop-ardy of not being able to afford health insurance at all.

For now, it remains un-clear how much retirees would have to pay if the measure is approved in the Senate and signed into law by Quinn.

The legislation is House Bill 1313.

kurt.erickson@lee.net / 217-782-4043

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