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Unions: Our pension plan actually saves more than House plan

Thursday, May 30, 2013

* AP

An Illinois Senate pension reform plan would reduce state indebtedness to current and future retirees by more than a rival House proposal if health insurance costs are counted, a new analysis by a league of union groups shows.

A study by the We Are One Illinois shows that if half of employees and retirees choose to forgo post-career health insurance as part of Senate President John Cullerton’s proposal, the state’s debt to two health insurance programs would be cut in half, by $26 billion. […]

In an analysis released last week, Nekritz pointed out that if roughly half of employees and retirees choose to forgo health care in favor of compounded cost-of-living increases in annual pension payouts, the Cullerton idea would only drop the pension liability by $6 billion.

The review acknowledged that it didn’t count savings in retiree health care - a bill of $52 billion in addition to the $97 billion pension shortfall.

* From the We Are One Coalition…

SB 2404: Health Care Savings Estimate

In contrast, evidence continues to mount that SB 2404 saves more than previously recognized. Leaders of We Are One Illinois have produced a new, preliminary estimate of $26 billion in health care savings in the coalition-supported legislation, Senate Bill 2404, based on the choice outcome suggested by SB 1 supporters. This brings the total immediate savings on the health care and pension unfunded liabilities to $31 billion – more than SB 1.

SB 1 supporters have wrongly argued that SB 2404 does not save enough. They estimate that because 50% will choose to opt out of retiree health care, that SB 2404 will save approximately $6 billion immediately off the pension unfunded liability.

But this calculation fails to include the significant health care savings that would accrue from a 50% health care opt out. If 50% of employees and retirees choose the health care opt out, approximately $26 billion in accrued health care liability would be saved, for a total combined liability savings of around $32 billion. If fewer opt out of health care, the pension savings would be greater. These are preliminary estimates calculated from the FY 2011 year ending actuarial valuation of Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) for the State Employees Group Insurance Program and Teachers Retirement Insurance Program.

“This is all the more reason the House should pass SB 2404 without change or delay,” Michael T. Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

Remember, this is only about the teachers’ pension fund. . Oops. Health savings are estimated for both State Employees Group Insurance Plan (SEGIP, covering SERS, SURS, GRS, JARS) and Teachers Retirement Insurance Plan (TRIP).

The TRS actuarial analysis is here.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Bill - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 10:54 am:

    Remember, Elaine, its all about math.

  2. - biased observer - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 10:56 am:

    again, timing of this “discovery” is highly suspicious.

  3. - Rich Miller - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:03 am:

    ===timing of this “discovery”===

    The TRS analysis was just released this week, dude.

  4. - Dude Abides - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:06 am:

    The savings in health care premiums will be considerable and I won’t be surprised if more than half of retirees opt out of health care because the opinion of a lot of people I talk to is that would be the best option long term.
    Looking back at where things were a year ago it’s a little surprising to me that the Unions are offering this much. The Senate plan is going to save the state a lot of real money. If the state is smart they’d take the deal but MJM and Netritz want the House plan, which will end up in court for a year while the unfunded liability continues to grow and odds are it will be thrown out of court and they will then have to start over.

  5. - RNUG - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:07 am:

    I wouldn’t be counting any retiree health care savings quite yet ….

  6. - Robert the Bruce - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:10 am:

    The savings in health care premiums do sound considerable, but I’m not sure it would be half the $52 million, because of adverse selection (the most healthy folks are the most likely ones to choose the health care opt-out, which would ultimately increase health care cost per retiree who remains).

  7. - biased observer - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:12 am:

    a great deal of the healthcare issue will depend upon how “obamacare” develops. this actually has the potential to solve a great deal of “retirement” issues across our nation (those pertaining to healthcare). but that is really a different topic. if one takes the costs of healthcare out of the equation, the amount of money one requires for retirement “sustenance” could go down considerably.

  8. - Big Guy - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:13 am:

    ==If 50% of employees and retirees choose the health care opt out, approximately $26 billion in accrued health care liability would be saved, for a total combined liability savings of around $32 billion==

    It’s clear that the unions are not actuaries.

    Savings numbers for retiree health insurance would depend entirely on the composition of the group that forgoes retiree health insurance. Illinois self-insures the group insurance plans, so it’s not the same as a small employer paying a premium per person.

    Is the group that forgoes health insurance healthier and the group that keeps it sicker? If so, the savings would be greatly diminished.

    Are the retirees that forgo health insurance older or younger? If they’re older, the state is only paying for supplemental Medicare coverage, which is much less than the cost of retirees under the age of 65. So, the savings could be greatly diminished.

    Are the employees forgoing retiree health insurance younger than the group that keeps it? If so, the actuarial value of their health benefits would be much less, as they would not begin to collect until later and the costs are discounted back to today’s present value (meaning they are much smaller in actuarial liability terms). So, the savings could greatly be diminished.

  9. - biased observer - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:15 am:

    rich, I consider it an honor to have received my first blog spanking (”blanking?”)from you. still seems a bit unusual to me, that’s all i’m saying.

  10. - cod - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:16 am:

    The TRS (a State agency that collects contributions, invests the fund, and distributes pensions) report is one thing, the We are One report is another, but they are NOT the Nekritz-touted analysis with $187b savings. The origin of that report is apparently a mystery, held as a closely guarded secret.

    Who created that analysis, and why does no newspaper say who the actuaries were?

  11. - archimedes - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:17 am:

    Reading the Buck Consultant study is interesiting. Remember, TRS is 55% of the cost for the 5 pension funds.

    Tier 1 and Tier2 contributions will now both exceed their pension value - so the employer normal cost is negative. As a result, the excess employee contributions are apying off 24% of the accumulated unfunded liability.

    So - not only are employees going to pay the full value of their pension benefit (no employer cost at all), they are also going to pay off almost 1/4 of the accumulated unfunded liability.

    Just the facts.

    “biased observer” 10:56AM. This study by Buck Consultants was needed by Nekritz to make her claim of $187 billion savings with SB0001. If anything, the timing was meant to promote SB0001.

  12. - DoubleD - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:22 am:

    Given that a segment of employees post 1985 pay a Medicare Tax, what effect does this have on the health costs into the future. The segment that does not pay the tax is shrinking and those of us who do pay the tax will be Medicare eligible so health insurance costs for this group should diminish a significant amount regardless of choice…right?

  13. - RNUG - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:28 am:

    Big Guy @ 11:13 am:

    Actually, only one of the State Health insurance plans, Quality Care, is “self insured”. All the other PPO/HMO plans are (more r less) traditional plans in that the State actually pays a fixed permium per person.

    Yes, a lot of retirees have QC because it provides coverage when traveling / wintering out of state. But it’s not universal. You would have to have access to the State’s enrollment data in order to be able to do any serious analysis.

  14. - Bill - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:32 am:

    Big Guy,
    Clearly, you are not an actuary either. For all managed care plans the state is not self insured. They pay a flat fee per participant. For the other plans, those that choose to keep the plan,granting your false assumption that they are sicker, will either pay more per paycheck if active, have their pensionable salary capped, or forgo tens of thousands of dollars in compounded cola dollars. Plus since they are sicker they will die sooner also saving pension funds. Leave the analysis to real actuaries in the TRS report. They work for the state not the union or the legislative leaders.

  15. - Bill - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:38 am:

    A lot of public pensioners will qualify for medicaid subsidies as of Jan.1 under ACA. They will be better off finally being done with dubious promises of “access” from the state.

  16. - Big Guy - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:44 am:

    RNUG –

    I know that the OAP and HMO plans aren’t self-insured. (We pay a fixed rate on risk-bearing contracts, and the rates are based on our risk pool profile.)

    But 60-65 percent of state and university retirees are in the self-insured plan. It’s about 60 percent of teachers. And it’s about 75 percent for community college retirees.

    In either case, the cost profile of who picks which deal will greatly affect the savings numbers. The fact that they think it’s as simple as multiplying the total actuarial liability by 50% is crazy.

  17. - RNUG - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:47 am:


    I’ve always viewed the ACA, with it’s weird mix of penalities, fines, subsidies and incentives as being deliberately designed to influence most businesses to dump their health insurance plans and force people onto an ever expanding Medicaid system. All the State’s actions are doing is force retirees to make that choice a bit sooner than expected.

    Personally, the timing is awful … Mrs. RNUG will be Medicre eligible in Jan and we’ve got to try to figure out exactly what to do with, at this time, basically zero information about the State’s options. And given the need to to sign up for Medicare a couple of months early to ensure a smooth transition, I don’t see having the informaiton in hand before we have to enroll.

  18. - Cassiopeia - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:52 am:

    The plan to force Medicare-eligible retirees into a Medicare Advantage plan that CMS selects is going to be a huge problem for people who want to keep their current doctors and/or have pre-existing conditions.

    Since CMS has problems just taking care of basic functions who wants to trust them with selecting a provider, especially when their primary concern in providing “services” is always the cost, and seldom the quality.

  19. - Big Guy - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 11:58 am:


    Active employees do not pay for retiree health insurance. (With the exception of the 0.88% contribution paid by TRS actives, which is set by statute and not related to cost.) Actives pay for (a share of) their EMPLOYEE health insurance.

    Also, your assumption that they would pay more for health insurance per paycheck while active because they are sicker than their coworkers forgoing retiree health insurance is silly. The risk pool for active employees would not change, as the Cullerton-Union bill only affects retiree health insurance. And, because active employees don’t pay for retiree health insurance, what they contribute to health insurance while active would have nothing to do with the risk profiles of either group.

    Current employees paying more for their employee health insurance will not reduce retiree health insurance liabilities.

    Your talk of savings on the pension side is unrelated to the retiree health insurance liabilities. Remember: the actuaries already calculated the pension side.

    Finally, I’m not making “false assumptions.” I’m saying that there are variables that matter a great deal. The only “false assumption” is that if 50% of participants forgo retiree health insurance, the UAAL will automatically be reduced by 50%.

    And what TRS report? Buck isn’t even the state’s actuary for retiree health insurance liabilities. But we’re not talking about a TRS report. We’re talking about a UNION “analysis” based on bad math.

  20. - Bill - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 12:00 pm:

    Being eligible for medicare is a good thing. It is quite possible that private medigap will be cheaper and better than whatever options the state comes up with for their advantage plan. I feel your pain with trying to guess what the state will do and being forced into making an uninformed choice.

  21. - Big Guy - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 12:04 pm:

    Also, Bill, you do know that the ACA’s new Medicaid eligibility levels apply only to those under the age of 64, right? And that they’d need household incomes of less than $16K (single) or $22K (married)? That means not just their state pensions, but Social Security for them (SERS) or their spouse, wages for a working spouse, etc.

  22. - RNUG - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 12:07 pm:

    Bill @ 12:00 pm

    Yes, I agree being Medicare eligible for her is a good thing, especially given her pre-existing conditions. It takes some of the pressure off of choosing to stay with the State insurance.

    Unfortunately, I’ve got several years to go before I qualify …

  23. - Bill - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 12:09 pm:

    The employee contribution for TRS retiree health insurance is not fixed at .88%. It can be ( and will be)adjusted up by CMS based on the cost of the group (with a cap on the increase). Read the law. Click on the link for the TRS analysis. The Buck report was not commissioned by the unions and is hardly unbiased. You can differentiate between pension savings and insurance savings if you want. I don’t. It is all goes to the state from employees and retirees pockets.

  24. - Bill - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 12:11 pm:

    Big Guy,
    The ACA eligibility level for subsidy for a family is 4 is $92.000.

  25. - Rob Roy - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 12:18 pm:

    Why would anybody want to opt out of their health insurance? That was one of the reasons I stayed working for the state..I don’t know anybody that wants to give it up.

  26. - Big Guy - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 12:28 pm:


    TRS did not perform an actuarial analysis of retiree health insurance savings. They performed an analysis of the pension system savings, taking into account all of the factors you listed as bringing about “additional” savings. It’s not about separating the savings. It’s about you trying to count those savings TWICE. The actuaries already counted them once in their pension savings estimates. You can’t count them again.

    Nevertheless, the “savings” numbers for retiree health insurance do not come from TRS, Buck, or the state’s retiree health insurance actuaries. They come from the We Are One coalition, and are beyond absurd for all of the reasons I listed. There are a lot of variables that matter, here, and they ignored them all.

    Also, you said Medicaid. You didn’t say coverage on the exchange. These are two very different things. Plus, how many retirees have families of four? (And, again: they only apply to those 64 or younger.)

    As far as TRIP goes, the active contribution is unrelated to the risk profile of the group, the program is pay-as-you-go (not pre-funded, like pensions are supposed to be), TRIP does not make up the majority of the retiree health insurance liabilities, and teachers are the outlier (state and university retirees pay nothing during their active careers for retiree health insurance).

  27. - illinifan - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 12:30 pm:

    Rob Roy…agree that is why I stayed as well. That said if it is a choice on the COLA or health coverage especially when I am Medicare eligible, I may have to opt out. I did a spread sheet and loss of the compounded COLA adds up to big bucks. In about 10 years out it amounts to a about a loss of income of $700 a month for me, and I have no clue what my share of the state cost of health coverage is 10 years out. I have a friend who just got on Medicare and he pays his 104.90 for part B, $40 a month for Part D and has a Medigap at $60 a month. I know this cost will go up over the years, but even if I kept the coverage and lost the COLA I see this as being a financial loss on my end.

  28. - RNUG - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 12:31 pm:

    Rob Roy @ 12:18 pm:

    Run a financial analysis of the impact of giving up or reducing your COLA over your life expectancy … and you will have your answer.

  29. - Bill - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 12:49 pm:

    ==you said Medicaid. You didn’t say coverage on the exchange.==
    OK. My bad, but the point is the same. Given a choice between state “access” without any funding guarantee or premium information and the COLA as it is should be an easy decision at any age once the exchange is up and operating. The cost of an individuals insurance is estimated by the state to be around $7500. So if an individual opts out of retiree health insurance I count that $7500 as a decrease in the retiree health insurance liability. It is not perfect but it is a better estimate than just ignoring it like the Nekritz numbers did.

  30. - Big Guy - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 1:06 pm:

    Or you could, you hire, have the actuaries actually score it like they scored the pension savings. Rather than pull a number out of a hat like the unions did.

  31. - mmc - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 1:16 pm:

    Used to be if one opted out of insurance one received $100.00. My current understanding is that if one chooses to opt out and provides proof of health insurance, the new “incentive” is $500.00/mo. trying to find the link on this to pass along.

  32. - illinifan - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 1:33 pm:

    mmc the current opt out is 150..which I currently receive. I emailed SERS about the $500 one and they said the bill had not passed yet. I wanted to know if to get the $500 I had to reenroll in health and then opt out under the higher incentive or do I just grandfather over if it is approved. If you heard the bill has passed I would love to know especially before open enrollment closes.

  33. - Bill - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 1:50 pm:

    Try this. appendix III , p. 23. It doesn’t address grandfathering.

  34. - facts are stubborn things - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 2:37 pm:

    I did a spread sheet comparing a 3% compounded COLA to a 1.5% simple COLA and the difference over your life expectancy is stagering. Also, if you have a spouse — and that spouce is younger — their life expectancy should also be considered. The benifit of a 3% COLA can be calculated against a smaller simple COLA but there is no way to know what the subsidy of health care might be in the future. If you trade away the 3% compounded COLA for health care, it is still an unknown benifit. In my mind, as a general rule, I would keep the 3% compounded COLA and give up the what is an unknown level of health care.

  35. - Chi - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 2:47 pm:

    Nekritz’ answer to the SS question is pretty amazeballs.

    George Orwell: “Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

  36. - Ready To Get Out - Thursday, May 30, 13 @ 2:53 pm:

    I did a spread sheet comparing a 3% compounded COLA to a 1% simple COLA and the difference over my life expectancy is $175,000….yes, that is staggering!

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