New post-employment program helps pay for South Bend firefighters' healthcare coverage
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The Board of Public Safety approved resolution 01-2022, adopting a new post-employment healthcare plan for retired firefighters.
“It’s a big benefit for us," said Christian Rose, representative of local 362.
Some retiring firefighters are not old enough to be eligible for Medicare, and so in 1996, a program was established to continue providing healthcare coverage, but only after the former firefighters paid a monthly premium of around $700 each.
“If we were to go out on the exchange, or whatever, and get health insurance, it would be substantially more than that seven hundred bucks a month," said Rose. "But it’s still a pretty significant number when you’re looking at going from making what we currently do to what we’re making in pension.”
And firefighters need that coverage, as many can develop health issues from exposure to smoke, chemicals, and other on-the-job hazards.
“We do have an elevated healthcare cost," Rose said. "We have an elevated risk of cancer, respiratory diseases and also heart disease—greater than the rest of the population.”
This new post-employment healthcare plan, or PEP, would make it easier for retired firefighters to pay for their coverage.
Moving forward, the city will deposit $120 each year into an account for every sworn South Bend firefighter-- and those funds can be used to help pay for health insurance coverage for when they retire.
And those firefighters will have other opportunities to help bolster those funds during their time in the department.
Rose said “If you reach the end of the year and you have sick time left, it gives you the option to put some of that—they’ll convert it to cash—and then put it in that PEP account.”
The same goes for retiring firefighters, who can convert their leftover comp and vacation time into cash that can go into the account-- and the money is tax free.
Rose hopes the PEP program will help retired firefighters who put their lives on the line well into the future.
“Hopefully it’s something that continues," he said. "And then as it does continue, perhaps it gets even more funding as we negotiate for it.”
Because the PEP was approved as part of the latest firefighters union contract negotiation with the department, it's already in effect as of this month.