Beaufort Co. agrees to pay retirees $ 125,000 in addition to health benefits

Retired Beaufort County employees who were deprived of their retirement benefits in 2016 may soon be eligible to receive money, Beaufort County Council ruled Monday evening.

The county council on Monday agreed to pay around 50 to 60 former county employees who retired after July 1, 2016, a portion of $ 125,000.

The decision comes more than a year after the county agreed to settle a lawsuit over reduced health benefits for retirees in 2016. As part of the settlement, the county agreed to pay 40 former employees $ 695,000. .

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 40 former Beaufort County and Bluffton Township Fire District employees, alleged the county severed its contract with employees in 2016 when it cut health benefits from several hundred current and former employees.

In March 2015, Beaufort County Council unanimously voted to cancel health insurance benefits for 95 retirees and 590 workers eligible to receive it upon retirement.

In this handout photo taken at Station 35 of the Bluffton Township Fire District Headquarters, Firefighter Scott Smith, left, and Firefighter / Paramedic Carson Stone showcase some of the personal protective equipment the service uses for them. emergency calls. Submitted

On Monday, several former county employees called on the council to correct the injustice and offer money to employees who did not sue for the lost benefits.

Council agreed and voted unanimously (10-0) to offer payment. Council member Gerald Dawson withdrew from the vote.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” said board member York Glover, who has fought continuously for the issue over the past year. “It is the moral thing to do, that this council live up to its commitment to these retirees. “

The county plans to send letters to eligible retirees for review and sign next week, according to county spokesman Chris Ophardt. The amount of money each person will receive will be based on a formula that takes into account the employee’s length of employment, life expectancy on July 1, 2016 and the amount of the subsidy included in their health benefits, Ohardt said.

Employees who did not have health insurance when they retired are not entitled to payment, he said.

Loss of benefits

In November 2003, Beaufort County Council passed a resolution authorizing employees with at least 10 years of service to continue their medical and dental coverage through Blue Cross Blue Shield.

In 2008, the board revoked the policy for new hires, declaring that only grandfathered employees could continue to receive health benefits after retirement.

In March 2015, the council ended all county health benefits for already retired employees and for current employees who would have been eligible for retirement.

When the policy went into effect in June 2016, it removed health coverage for 95 retirees and 590 then-current employees who were eligible for retirement.

Ten more retirees from the Bluffton Township Fire District lost coverage and about 95 current employees were entitled to it.

The benefits have been reduced due to rising costs, officials said in 2015.

Beaufort County was making about $ 380,000 in annual contributions to health care premiums for retirees, former deputy county administrator Josh Gruber said in 2015. Retirees paid the remainder of the $ 323,000.

“The numbers are what the numbers are,” Gruber said in 2015. “The cost of continuing to provide this benefit has reached a tipping point that is no longer sustainable.”

On July 21, 2016, 16 former employees from Beaufort County and the Township of Bluffton Fire District sued the County and Fire District for the loss of health coverage. Over time, more defendants were added to the trial.

The lawsuit was removed from the role in 2018, then added again in July 2019.

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A reporter for The Island Packet covering local government and development, Kacen Bayless is from St. Louis, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri with a major in investigative reporting. In the past, he worked for the St. Louis Magazine, the Columbia Missourian, the KBIA and the Columbia Business Times. His work has earned him awards from the Missouri and South Carolina Press Association for his investigative, corporate, in-depth, health, growth, and government reporting.
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