Former Beaufort County employees poised to lose certain health care benefits in July are pleading with county leaders to let them keep their coverage.
The expiring benefits allow employees who retire after more than 15 years of service with the county — or more than 25 years with the Bluffton Township Fire District — to continue health and dental coverage for themselves and any dependents claimed on the policies before they retired.
The county pays a portion of the coverage based upon the employee’s tenure.
Faced with rising insurance costs and budget constraints, Beaufort County Council voted unanimously last March to end the benefits for the nearly 130 retirees already receiving them and the more 600 active employees eligible upon retirement.
But the government could face “potential litigation arising out of council’s decision to terminate” the benefits on July 1, according to county documents.
You are holding some people hostage because they are afraid to retire and give up their health benefits program.
Retired community services director Morris Campbell
In response to that, council members and staff held a workshop Thursday to discuss the issue and give the public a chance to weigh in.
The message from retirees was unanimous: Losing coverage is unacceptable.
Former community services director Morris Campbell, who retired last year after nearly 35 years with the county, said “to pull the plug at this point is not fair” to long-time employees who counted on having health care coverage into retirement.
“You are holding some people hostage, because they are afraid to retire and give up their health benefits program,” he told the council members.
Continuing the program is “the fair thing to do. It’s the compassionate thing to do,” he said.
Retired county EMS worker Joe Sheafer was even more pointed in his remarks.
“Shame on you,” he said. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said the insurance benefits have been used as an “incentive package” to help recruit and retain county and law enforcement employees.
“To take this benefit from those who are qualified is wrong,” he said. “The council, outside of any legal arguments, has a moral obligation to stay true to the incentives that were given.”
Tanner urged the council to push back the expiration of the benefits to 2017 to allow more time to study the issue.
If and when the council could take a vote on reversing its earlier course on remains unclear.
Councilman Jerry Stewart said, “We have an executive committee meeting coming in two weeks, and this (issue) could possibly come forward. We will have to talk to each individual (council member) to see what consensus is and then make a decision.”