Conroe, June 17 – The Golden Hammer Award went to “anonymous” for the first time at the Tuesday, June 13, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting, because, when the Publisher of The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, asked the members of the Commissioners Court what “internal services funds” were, only one member of the Commissioners Court knew the answer. “Internal service funds” comprise $29.44 million of the County government’s $377.4 million Fiscal Year 2017 Budget.
When County Judge Craig Doyal and his “chief of staff” jim fredricks received the question of “what are internal service funds,” they had to call County Auditor Phyllis Martin, because they had no idea whatsoever what that gigantic portion of the County Budget is. Internal services funds represent the County government’s effort to “self-insure” its retirement plan, its employee health insurance, its retired employee health insurance, and its property and casualty and liability insurance.
Among the items contained within the agenda packet for the June 13 meeting, the $9,500 per person per year cost of retired employee health insurance caught many citizens’ eyes. None of the members of the Commissioners Court even noticed the statistic, other than Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, in the Court’s packet for study before the Court meeting.
Why A Golden Hammer for retired employee health insurance?
According to a recent study of the Kaiser Family Foundation, less than 15% of employers in the public and private sectors with 200 or more employees provide retired employees with health insurance benefits. One of the reasons that such an extravagant expenditure is unnecessary is because, like the rest of us, retired County employees have numerous other options to health care coverage, including Medicare and private supplemental insurance to fill in gaps where Medicare coverage does not exist.
Interestingly, one of the confidential sources of The Golden Hammer among the 266 County employees who regularly provide anonymous tips, information, and documentation, since Doyal and his political allies have sought to hide the County government under a veil of secrecy, was kind enough to provide this very helpful comment:
“Just wanted to let you know that originally that medical benefit [employee retirement health insurance] was available after 12 years of service, then was increased to 15 years. The court [under County Judge Alan Sadler] changed the retired medical policy again a couple of years ago, raising eligibility for it from 15 years to 25 years working for the county, and also that employment must be continuous and full time for that whole 25 years to be eligible. Very, very few people work for the county that long, so it was an effective move to continue to phase out the benefit. Also, it becomes secondary to Medicare.”
For that reason, the $9,500 per person per year price tag for the $2.8975 million per year employee retirement health insurance program seems completely out of whack. Most employees who have worked for Montgomery County for 25 years or longer are close to 65 years of age, which means that they should receive Medicare benefits. The County’s provision of medical benefits seems like a wasteful expenditure.
In fact, less than one out of every ten Fortune 500 companies provide retiree health benefits. Once again, Montgomery County’s government, playing with “other people’s money” is engaging in this extravagant expenditure.
No one is questioning the retirement benefits of the County, especially because the plan is a defined contribution plan. Nevertheless, the retirement health insurance plan is a ridiculous extravagance, which the County ought to phase out.
Clearly, Doyal and his anonymous Commissioners Court colleagues ought to receive The Golden Hammer Award “for hammering the taxpayers” with a program about which they don’t even seem to know and about which they most certainly don’t understand.
Current retirees and County employees should be “grandfathered” in, so that they’ll receive their benefits. Nevertheless, the County’s defined benefit plan should be amended so that new employees are not entitled to this health insurance benefit that goes far beyond what most private sector firms provide.