Kill Retiree Health Care. Now.

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Do the Democrats care more about public employees with health insurance than poor children without it?

The question is harsh, but fair.  Gov. Brown and the Democrats, in the name of frugality, were willing to shut down Healthy Families and move children into MediCal – in the name of saving money and avoiding duplication.

By this logic (and for many other reasons), it’s time – really past time – for them to stop offering retiree health care.

Let me be clear: employees who are already retired or vested in the system should continue to receive the retire health benefits they’ve been promised. But for everyone else, retiree health care can be eliminated – indeed it should be eliminated – without harming anyone at all.

There are two reasons why this should be done: Medicare and Obamacare. Together, those two entitlements can cover every conceivable public employee. Retiree health care predates Medicare, which now covers seniors. For everyone else, there is Obamacare. Retiree health care is thus a redundancy that we can’t afford.

And what better time to make this change than right now, when Obamacare is being implemented in California?

This also would be good for other programs and for the state’s long-term fiscal health. For all the conversation about pensions, retiree health care is the scarier problem. California governments have put aside money, in pension funds, that will cover at least some costs. But retiree health care is entirely unfunded.

And if Democrats aren’t motivated by dollars and cents arguments, they should be motivated by the argument of fairness. Offering redundant, unnecessary benefits to retirees in the context of the state’s health care troubles, and its treatment of children, borders on an outrage.

So end it now. What are you waiting for?

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