Lawmakers don’t need juicy health care perk

This week, our state lawmakers started piling on to the notion that they need to give up their legacy lifetime health care benefits for a greater good.

Now there’s an excellent idea.

All we want to know is: What took them so long?

For all the partisan ballyhoo about this proposal, it seems like legislators, regardless of their party, ought to be ashamed they are still talking about this and haven’t already acted swiftly — and in a bipartisan fashion — to accomplish it before now.

This health care perk for lawmakers is so out of touch with reality it’s truly amazing that it still exists.

In Michigan, retired members of the Legislature and their spouses still qualify for health insurance benefits when the lawmaker turns 55 if he or she has served six years. The Legislative Retirement System paid out $4.7 million to 341 former lawmakers and their spouses in fiscal year 2007-08.

On Tuesday, Democrats in the state House and Senate reissued a call for an end to the lifetime health care benefit. They say they favor a bill that would eliminate the coverage for serving legislators.

Meanwhile, Republicans proposed a sweeping plan that would cut pay and health insurance through constitutional amendments that would affect public employees at all levels of government. One proposal would amend the state constitution to cut state employee wages by 5 percent and require them to pay 20 percent of premiums.
The GOP plan would only eliminate the health care benefit for those not vested as of Jan. 1, 2010.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop said the approach must directly reduce the size and cost of government.

“We, as public servants, believe that it’s our responsibility to step up first and try to be part of the solution,” Bishop said. “We’ve got to address that cost driver or we’ll never get to the bottom of the problem.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Jennifer Granholm says constitutional amendments are too slow; she will have her own spending reforms and tax restructuring proposals to offer in her State of the State address on Feb. 3.

It all feels like so much fiddling and rearranging of partisan deck chairs as our dysfunctional ship of state steams, full speed ahead, on a collision course with one hard, cold iceberg of truth: Michigan is facing a deficit of at least $1.6 billion in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

One of many online comments in response to this week’s flurry of political activity in Lansing put it quite succinctly:
“The Republican proposal was nothing more than an inadequate token gesture and, then, not to be outdone, the Democrats follow with a tongue-in-cheek, knowing-it’ll-never-be-passed, grandstanding counterproposal.

“Our lawmakers need to know that our faltering economy will eventually make their protection of Cadillac-level benefits a moot point.”