RETIREE HEALTH CARE
The nation’s public safety officers (law enforcement officers, fire fighters and emergency medical personnel) face special health care challenges after retiring from their job. The men and women in these occupations generally retire earlier than their peers in other fields, either because of mandatory retirement ages or the structure of their pension system. Most emergency responders leave employment long before they are eligible for Medicare.
In addition, many public safety officers have significant health care needs resulting from years of working in dangerous, stressful environments. Long term exposures to smoke, toxic substances, biohazards, temperature extremes, and persistent stress take their toll on the health of our nation’s domestic defenders.
With the soaring cost of health care, retired public safety officers are finding it more and more difficult to afford health insurance once they separate from service. Currently, many fire fighter retirees use more than 80% of their pension checks to pay for health insurance. In extreme cases, the cost of insurance exceeds their pension benefit.
To address the dire need for enhanced access to health insurance for retired fire fighters, the IAFF is proposing a change to the federal tax code to allow retired public safety officers to use a portion of their retirement funds for health insurance premiums on a pre-tax basis.
Reps. Chris Chocola (R-IN) and Richard Neal (D-MA) introduced H.R.2177, the Healthcare Enhancement for Local Public Safety (HELPS) Retirees Act. The legislation would enable retired public safety officers to designate up to $5,000 per year from pension funds for health insurance premiums, and the money would not be treated as taxable income. Retirees would authorize direct payments to qualified health insurance plans from their governmental pension or their deferred compensation funds, such as 403(b) or 457 plans.
The IAFF supports the HELPS Retirees Act.
On May 5, 2005, H.R.2177 was introduced and referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.