Retired fire fighters and police offers fight health care pension problems

TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - They've put their lives on the line for all of us for decades. Now in retirement some former fire fighters and police officers says their own pension plan is betraying them.

They're seeing big changes in their health care and lots of them are not happy about the coverage. Now they're asking for some major changes.

Chris Coultrip was Wood County's first full time female road officer when she joined the Rossford Police Department.

"They never put me through a field training program. The chief said he was afraid, he didn't want me riding with the guys at night," said Coultrip.

Decades later she called it the best job she could have ever had. In her retirement there are a few things she's expected: life would slow down, her pension would be available and she'd be able to get good health care coverage. The last part has become her cause.

"It's like the things we were promised, none of them came true," said Coultrip.

Coultrip one of the roughly 29,000 Ohio fire and police retirees with new health insurance in 2019.

Instead of the old group plan, those retirees receive a stipend to pick a plan from a company called AON.

"I didn't really worry about it until I started researching and trying to get a policy and found out I had a choice of 14 policies, all of them were bronze policies. None of them included my doctor," said Coultrip.

"I contact them and say I need an electrophysiologist, there's none in your network listed. I need a heart failure doctor, there's none in your network listed. We don't know what to tell you," said Bruce Robertson, a retired Centerville police officer.

Robertson faced similar difficulties working with AON. He has heart issues and needs the specialists.

"We're left in a terrible situation because there was no due diligence. They took their eye off the road," said Robertson.

“They” is the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Board. Toledo fire fighter Dan Desmond sits on that board.

"This gives me angst. This gives me heartburn," said Desmond.

Desmond says the board decided to drop a group plan because keeping one was financially unsustainable. Recent state law forced pensions to have enough money to be solvent for 30 years. For the police and fire pension, that meant fewer dollars spent on the health care side and more toward the actual pension.

"This is not an easy decision to make and to tell you the truth it's a lousy thing that had to happen. I mean who does not want to provide health care for fire fighters and police officers," said Desmond.

The board estimates this now gives the pension 15-16 more years of money for health care. By statute, this pension board is only mandated to provide the actual pension dollars and now Medicare Part B. An actual health care plan is a bonus.

"Could we have put our heads down, kicked the can down the road and let the health care stabilization fund run out of money in a few years? The answer is yes we could have. I'm extremely proud we took the measure that we had to," said Desmond.

"We don't trust them. They're not looking out for us," Coultrip.

So what could help? Employers, that being cities, townships, villages could contribute more to the pension plans. That's highly unlikely.

More realistic is legislation circulating through Washington DC allowing first responders to be Medicare eligible at 55, not 65 like most people.

“Society's begging for older police officers and fire fighters and I don't think that's what we want. I don't think anyone wants a 64-year-old showing up at their door to put a fire out," said Desmond.

In the meantime some changes are on the way for 2020. Retirees will be able to shop other companies for coverage and still receive the stipend. They can even go to the health care exchange to get choice that retirees say they desperately need.

"I have the option of choosing bankruptcy or taking a plan that may not cover me anyway," Robertson.

That legislation for first responders to be Medicare eligible at 55 has not been introduced yet but a spokesperson for Senator Sherrod Brown tells the I-Team that's expected to happen later in 2019.