AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Ex-lawmakers can get lifetime state health insurance too

Part-time legislators will decide this session whether part-time school bus drivers and cafeteria workers will retain state-subsidized health coverage. They will do so with the knowledge that they can keep their own state-subsidized insurance even when they leave office.

Once they get elected and sign up for State Health Benefit Plan coverage, they can retain the insurance when they retire if they've served (and been on the SHBP) at least eight years.

That's four, two-year terms.

In fact, some former lawmakers who quit and took lucrative lobbying gigs - lobbying their former colleagues in the General Assembly - still get their health coverage through the State Health Benefit Plan. As do their family.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this morning that 377 legislators and dependents are covered by the plan. The state spends $1.2 million a year subsidizing their coverage.

However, that number doesn't include former lawmakers and their family members. That number would take a while to get because the state would have to try to match the names of former legislators with the rolls of 650,000 teachers, state employees, retirees and dependents on the plan.

The issue is coming up because Gov. Nathan Deal said his proposal to eliminate state subsidies to cover part-time school workers is a "fairness" issue. Thousands of similarly part-time state employees are not eligible for SHBP coverage.

Cutting part-time bus drivers and cafeteria workers from the plan would save the state $103 million a year. Many rank-and-file lawmakers, who have been getting an ear full from constituents about the issue, have already said they oppose cutting the coverage.

However, legislators may try to force local school districts to pay for the part-timers' health insurance coverage.

That would cut into the windfall districts hoped to get from the $21.8 billion state budget Deal is pushing, which would increase school funding.



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About the Author

James Salzer has covered state government and politics in Georgia since 1990.