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Retired First Responders Struggle To Meet Deadline For New Insurance Plan

A fire truck in Columbus [WOSU]
A fire truck in Columbus

Earlier this year, the Ohio police and fire pension fund’s board decided to shift from group insurance to a monthly stipend that allows retirees to buy their own insurance.

The change takes effect next year, but the deadline to sign up for the new system is midnight Friday.

Kevin O’Connor, Chief of Fire for the city of Columbus, says that the transition has not been smooth: Members haven't been able to sign up, the websites have crashed, they were scheduled for phone appointments they never received.

"They were supposed to be helping them understand what these changes meant, so many of them aren't quite sure what coverage may be available," O'Connor says.

More concerning to him is the number of retirees who haven't signed up under the system at all. About 8,000 former police officers or fire fighters are retired but younger than 65, making them elgible for non-Medicare insurance stipends. But O'Connor says only about 4,700 of those have registered.

"The issue is, of those 3,300 that haven't signed up, it's hard to know whether the fact is they've made a choice not to participate, or whether they don't have the information, or whether they've tried and failed," he says.

And the stakes could hardly be higher.

"If you are under Medicare age, if you are under 65 and retired, you have to sign up for something by midnight on Friday or you will lose your coverage," he says.

O'Connor says those who don't sign up could literally could be without health care for over 17 years.

"Because if they retired at 48, which is the minimum retirement age, without a major life event like a change of employement - but they're retired so they probably will never have that - they are not elgible for insurance coverage again 'til they reach Medicare age at 65," he says.

He believes the board is acting in good faith, and may come back to the table to renegotiate the deal. But the deadline exists either way.

"Our members have to pick a plan, no matter how difficult it is, even if they pick a wrong plan, at least they have something, and they can change that in the future," O'Connor says. "But if they don't get signed up, like I said, potentially for years they would not have any healthcare." Copyright 2018 WOSU 89.7 NPR News. To see more, visit WOSU 89.7 NPR News.