Retired first responders will see changes to much-criticized stipend plan, but not until 2020

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — On Wednesday, Ohio’s retired police and firefighters learned their fight for improved health care benefits might see results, but not until next year.

The Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund Board has been under fire since they eliminated the group insurance plan that was in place for decades. They replaced it with a stipend to be used by retirees to buy individual plans through an online platform known as AON, but retirees say their options are few, expensive and restrictive.

Communication between the board, AON and retirees has been poor.

“Please just start giving us information,” retired firefighter Dan Smith begged the board. “Put something out on the website all the time. Let us know what’s going on.”

Over the past few months, the board has received numerous complaints and questions about the stipend system and AON.

Carol Nietman, the wife of a retired police officer, said the options through AON put her husband’s health care in jeopardy.

“Every single one of his doctors is at a university hospital, which is not covered,” she said. “Which is unbelievable to me.”

The worries aren’t limited to the retirees and their families either. When they see what’s happening to their retired friends, first responders who are on the job are saying they’re afraid to retire.

“Their out of pocket? Close to $30,000 a year,” firefighter George Klinger said. “And with the stipend, they are still paying like $1,600 a month.”

The complaints and anger might be fueling the changes that are supposed to be coming in 2020. Next year, retirees will be allowed to use their stipend to find the best plan they can on the open market. Even AON says it is trying to improve its offerings, within limits. There will still be no coverage outside of Ohio.

When asked about the justification for not having coverage outside the state, AON benefits manager Mark Chandler pointed to the Affordable Care Act limitations. 

“Yeah, that’s the Affordable Care [Act] marketplace,” Chandler said. “That isn’t about plans that we offer. That’s for plans in the Affordable Care Act. Most of those plans tend to be HMOs, so there is a network component involved.”

The board said it is limited by the marketplace and is doing what it can to help provide stipends for health care as long as it can.

“I tell you that this board has bent backwards to try and take care of our members,” Police and Fire Pension Fund board member Bill Deighton said. “The money is not there.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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