On September 17th, Orange County Employees Association General Manager Nick Berardino responded to a September 10th OC Register Watchdog report regarding retiree medical costs in the following reader rebuttal.
Rebuttal (Nick Berardino): O.C. pension costs
Five years ago, Supervisor Bill Campbell and the Orange County Employees Association recognized two things: the importance of providing quality health care coverage for retired county employees and the rising cost of doing so.
So, together, we addressed these issues head-on. Through the collective bargaining process, OCEA and the county arrived at an agreement that reduced the county’s unfunded liability for retiree medical benefits by $815 million while continuing to ensure our employees would receive adequate care in their most vulnerable years.
But if you read the Sept. 12 Orange County Register, you’d never know that a union played any role in reforming retirement medical costs here. Instead, a story about the costs of retiree medical plans (“O.C. agencies face down $1 billion pension costs“) appears to be more concerned with inducing sticker shock than stimulating a thoughtful discussion about solutions to the nationwide problem of caring for our elderly.
The story quotes so-called experts who blame public-employee unions for having the audacity to ensure workers will be able to pay for medicine and doctor’s office visits as they age. And it makes examples of government executives and elected officials who receive health care benefits in addition to six-figure pension payments.
We agree with the Register and applaud the paper’s outrage toward executives and elected officials who collect multiple pensions, refuse to give up their car allowances and other perks and who don’t pay their fair share â€“ or any share â€“ toward their retirement costs.
But it’s time to draw a distinction between the elite executive managers and the rank-and-file employees who pay for their retirement benefits, who collect a modest average annual pension of $29,000, and who endure furloughs and pay freezes when times are tough. Unlike their private sector counterparts and elected leaders, most of these workers are not eligible for Social Security benefits when they retire.
Providing medical benefits and retirement security to public employees is the responsible thing to do, both morally and fiscally. In fact, the private sector corporations making millions of dollars in profits should step up to ensure their employees have access to quality health care during retirement; failing to do so amounts to the biggest form of corporate welfare in America today.
See, when people lack adequate medical coverage, they often end up in the emergency room. And when they can’t pay, taxpayers pick up the slack.
The more we allow finger pointing and hyperbole to obscure the very serious issue of providing medical coverage to elderly Americans, the closer we come to creating a vast new elder underclass that’s dependent on taxpayer assistance to survive. And nobody has bothered to estimate that unfunded liability.