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Hartford Retirees Can’t Sway Board

Hartford — More than a half dozen retired municipal employees voiced opposition Tuesday night to the Selectboard’s decision to no longer provide health insurance coverage through the town to retirees under the age of 65.

Under the plan adopted Tuesday night, 13 retired workers under the age of 65 who were previously covered by the town’s health insurance plan will be diverted to the state-run health benefits exchange and then be reimbursed by the town.

The retirees said the switch will prove to be more costly to the individual, is a “betrayal” of promises made decades ago and is much more complex for those living outside Vermont.

“They made a commitment to provide the health insurance at the level when you retired and since then there has been a lot of changes in health care,” said Steven Leinoff, retired assistant fire chief.

“We are disappointed,” he said on Tuesday night.

Leinoff said that retirees also are being treated unfairly because they forfeited payment for earned sick time at the time of retirement in exchange for town-provided health insurance.

“We relied on a commitment and we don’t feel they met that commitment,” Leinoff said.

Joyce Lumdrigan, a spouse of a retired Hartford employee, said the health insurance stipend offered to help cover plans purchased through the exchange isn’t enough to pay for a plan that offers coverage similar to what the town offered.

Lumdrigan, a Plainfield resident, added it will cost her hundreds more to get a plan in the Granite State compared with an individual purchasing through Vermont’s state-run website.

“The insurance plan doesn’t become portable anymore,” she said . “I never thought my health insurance would be a factor of where I had to live.”

David Rich, another retired worker who now lives in New Hampshire, cited similar concerns.

“The rates and coverage in New Hampshire are totally different then they are in Vermont,” Rich, of Newport, said during the meeting. “I would hope the Selectboard would stand behind their commitment as they had in the past and leave the retirees where they are as far as insurance coverage.”

The retirees’ comments did little to sway the Selectboard.

Members ultimately voted 5-1 to amend the language in the employee personnel policy to change the way retirees under age 65 obtain their health insurance.

When retirees reaches age 65, they are then eligible for Medicare.

Reimbursing the affected retirees versus providing health insurance is expected to save roughly $26,000 in next year’s town budget.

Selectman Alex DeFelice was the lone vote against the retiree insurance change.

“I think the town is indebted to the employees who have worked for us over the years,” he said. “I don’t think we should add this burden to the retirees.”

After DeFelice’s comments, Vice Chairman Simon Dennis said he was also inclined to oppose the change and then called for the board to meet in executive session. Following the executive session the board emerged and quickly voted without further discussion.

The state health exchange — Vermont Health Connect — offers several plans rated from bronze to platinum, with the platinum plans the most costly.

The town’s reimbursement to the retired employees is expected to cover all of the plans on the exchange, except for the platinum plans.

Leinoff said through the health exchange, he would pay roughly $400 more a year for a platinum plan — which he says is most like his current insurance.

“The current plan in the Vermont health site, if we enroll, is not the same quality plan that we currently have,” Leinoff said.

George Packard, the current wastewater treatment plant operator, said Tuesday’s decision makes him wary of what may come when he retires. He is in his 36th year as a Hartford employee.

“Betrayal,” Packard said, was the first thing that crossed his mind after the decision came around 8 p.m. “It’s not good faith. Most retirees are living on a fixed income. It’s just not right.”

Under a separate proposal passed by the Selectboard last month, the town would drop MVP Health Care, its current employee healthcare provider, and switch employees to a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. No further action was taken on it Tuesday night.

In other news, the Selectboard approved allowing the town and Twin Pines Housing Trust to move forward with submitting a grant application for $400,000, which will help renovate 34 existing apartments spread across five properties in White River Junction and Quechee.

The grant funding, which would come from the Vermont Community Development Program, will help Twin Pines invest $6.5 million into the project to improve the quality of life for its existing tenants and add decades of life onto the buildings, officials said.

Talk of a local match sparked discussion Tuesday night, but those details will continue to be worked out and discussed at a future meeting, if warranted. Selectman F.X. Flinn said the local match should not halt the application process.

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