SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — More than 80,000 retired government employees will have to start paying for health insurance under legislation Gov. Pat Quinn signed Thursday, ending a major benefit that Illinois had promised to employees.
Future state retirees will also have to pay under the legislation, part of a push to curb state spending on retirement benefits. That applies to roughly 200,000 people who already took government jobs with the understanding that they would not pay insurance premiums after retirement.
Exactly how much the additional expense will be isn't clear. Insurance rates will be negotiated with unions and approved by a legislative commission.
Gov. Pat Quinn said employees who served taxpayers deserve quality health care. "We also have a duty to taxpayers to ensure these plans are cost-efficient and put Illinois on the path to fiscal stability," he added in a statement.
The Chicago Democrat announced the signing in a news release shortly after 5 a.m. The release said the legislation will "preserve health care benefits for state retirees."
In 2010, the state reduced pension benefits for future government employees. Quinn and legislative leaders are now negotiating over a plan to cut pension checks for current workers and retirees in an effort to shore up pension systems that are $83 billion short of what they'll someday need to pay out.
The insurance legislation applies to state employees, university and community college staff, judges and legislators. Until now, the state has paid the health insurance premiums for retirees in those categories if they've worked a certain number of years. Retirees were still responsible for co-pays and deductibles.
The measure had bipartisan support.
"I have a lot of compassion for those people who retired anticipating a certain benefit that now may be changed somewhat," Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said in the governor's release. "Having said that, this is a step Illinois must take to right the financial ship."