Retirees feel squeeze of health care costs - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Retirees feel squeeze of health care costs

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May 25, 2006

Albany - It's nearly impossible to find an American family or business that isn't feeling the pinch of skyrocketing health care costs.  Most of us pay more for health insurance year after year and often settle for less coverage.  

Albany, Dougherty County and Water, Gas and Light spend about $15 million a year on health insurance. The governments say they must lower that cost or face drastic measures, including dropping some retirees off the plan all together.      

They pick up garbage and repair utilities. Most city, county and WG&L employees don't make a lot of money. But they're loyal, in part, because of good health care and retirement plans. However those benefits are dwindling at least for retirees.

"Certainly, we don't want to increase insurance rates on retirees," said Albany Mayor Dr. Willie Adams. But that's exactly what Mayor Willie Adams, city, county and utility commissioners are considering.

They're talking about upping premiums 10-15% for government retirees under 65 this year and possibly dropping retirees over 65 off the insurance plan all together a year or so down the road. Mayor Adams says that would only happen if retirees could find coverage elsewhere.

"A lot of them over 65 are covered by Medicare. So we'll have to coordinate the benefits they get from Medicare versus what Water, Gas and Light is giving them also to see what's the best solution for the retirees," said Adams. 

As commissioners talked about retirees, current employees ended an eight week health care class.  The class is part of a preventive health care program designed to reduce health care payouts. All 848 government employees underwent health care screenings.

"We're sitting on what I consider a medical time bomb," said Adams. 

The findings were alarming. 53% were overweight. More than 60% had either high blood sugar or cholesterol, precursors to heart disease. And 24 people were taken directly to the hospital.

Adams said, "We certainly want to help them by trying to get them in better shape."  

High risk employees were put into the health care classes, where they learned good eating and exercise habits.

"Most people have made a lot of changes,' said Dietician Melanie Collins. "They've already gone back to doctors and seen that their cholesterol level is lower, their blood pressure is lower or that they have lost weight."

The city, county and WG&L are anxiously waiting to see just how much money they'll save by having healthier employees. The insurance coverage changes have already been approved by the county and are waiting approval by the city and WG&L.

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