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Proposal: Retired Ill. teachers could see cuts in health benefits

CHICAGO – Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn wants to eliminate the state’s contributions toward health insurance benefits for retired school teachers and community college professors, according to a published report Sunday.

The cuts are part of the budget proposal Quinn unveiled last week during a speech in which he said Illinois could not avoid “a rendezvous with reality” if it is to forestall a financial meltdown over rising pension and health care costs. The governor’s plan also would trim the budgets of most state agencies and close prisons and mental institutions to save money.

The Chicago Tribune reported the cuts that would affect retired teachers target two insurance programs and would save the state about $92 million.

Educators argue the change would add to their woes as they struggle to get by on pensions that unions say average $43,000 a year.

“The unfortunate thing is most people don’t need medical services when they are young. They need them when they are retired, and increasingly so,” said Gary Elmen, president of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association. “They would be forced to make a decision between eating and being able to afford insurance.”

About 77,000 retired teachers and their dependents outside Chicago are covered under the Teachers Retirement Insurance Program and the Community College Insurance Program.

State funding for similar retired teacher costs in Chicago was eliminated last year.

If Quinn’s plan is approved, retirees could be forced to pay higher premiums. The extra costs also could be shifted to school districts, which could mean higher property taxes.

Kelly Kraft, a budget spokeswoman for the Democratic governor, said the change is necessary because of what she described as “fiscal challenges created over decades of mismanagement.”

Republican state senators say Quinn’s proposal would require a change in an Illinois law that requires the payment of teacher retirement insurance money.

Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, and a point person on education, said retired teachers with modest pensions should not have to shoulder the burden.

Lightford said, however, she would consider a requirement for teachers with large pensions to pay more.

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