Griebel: Trim lifetime health benefits for elected officials

Republican Oz Griebel has a long way to go in his quest to become governor, but already he’s mastered one skill: irking state legislators.

Griebel says the state has to change the way it provides benefits to retirees, starting with elected and appointed officials-particularly members of the part-time General Assembly.

“If you want to throw your hat in the ring, let’s make sure it’s about serving the state and not how it helps your benefits plan,” Griebel said.

Like regular state employees, elected and appointed officials qualify after 10 years of service for full health benefits when they retire. Griebel say that benefit should be reconsidered.

“I am not saying that we willy-nilly get rid of health care coverage right at the outset for elected officials or appointed officials,” the Simsbury businessman said, “but it has to be something under consideration if we’re serious about getting our costs under control.”

At the least, Griebel said, the officials should pay more for their health coverage.

The state currently provides insurance coverage for 42,000 state retirees and their spouses, at an average cost of $13,400 per person, according to the comptroller’s office. The office was not able to say how many of those retirees served as elected or appointed officials.

All six of the Constitutional officers elected statewide have served long enough to collect health benefits when they retire, as have nearly half the 187 members of the General Assembly.

In general, state employees must work more than half-time to qualify for benefits. The General Assembly is in session for three months in even-numbered years and five months in odd years.

But lawmakers argue that just because they are only in session for a fraction of the year, it is still a full-time job that deserves full-time benefits.

“I honor hard work, and legislators should have the same benefits that other state employees have,” House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, said. “They are legislators for the whole year. Some argue they are only getting part-time pay for full-time work.”

“This really is a full-time job. Right now every legislator is working full-time, they just are not compensated for it,” said Rep. Christopher L. Caruso, D-Bridgeport, whose 20 years in office qualifies him for a $930 monthly pension check and full health benefits when he retires. “We become an easy punching bag during election seasons.”

Rep. Craig Miner of Litchfield, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, reached the 10-year mark that qualified him for benefits this year. He says Griebel’s suggestion is at least worth considering.

“I haven’t thought about it enough though to support it yet, but it will take this kind of significant change to make us solvent,” he said.

Griebel said he routinely hears stories how legislators are motivated to seek re-election because of the retiree health benefits they are entitled to after 10 years in office.

“You’ll hear statements of, ‘I have to serve one more year to qualify for the health care benefits.’ … The point I am trying to make is it encourages people to stay on only for their own benefit,” he said. “What I am asking for elected and appointed officials is that their health plans be looked at.”