Illinois is hoping these retired teachers die first.

Governor_Pat_Quinn

Governor Pat Quinn vetoed the bill. It passed overwhelmingly in both houses and would have helped a small group of retirees that are ineligible for Medicare. But Quinn vetoed it.

-From the Daily Southtown. Ted Slovik.

There’s little sympathy among lawmakers and union members for Jeri Shanahan, 74, of Orland Park.

For about a decade she’s waged a one-woman crusade over what she sees as an injustice that has cost her $82,000 since 2004. That’s when she retired from teaching children in Community Consolidated School District 146, which serves Tinley Park, Oak Forest and Orland Park.

Shanahan seems to be the only person bothered by the fact that Medicare ineligible retired educators who live in Illinois pay twice as much for health insurance than their counterparts who live out of state.

“I should have been a snowbird,” she told me. “I should have moved out of state.”

Shanahan recently was notified her monthly premiums for single coverage will increase to $833.43. If she lived in Indiana, Arizona, Florida, or anywhere else she’d only pay $416.72 per month.

She’s been harping on this discrepancy since she first discovered it 10 years ago. My predecessor, columnist Phil Kadner, wrote two stories about Shanahan, in 2009 and 2012.

“The 67-year-old Orland Park resident is sort of a hero in my book, because she’s taken on the government in a one-woman crusade that is simply remarkable,” he wrote in 2009.

He explained how the discrepancy in costs relates to the difference between a health maintenance organization (HMO) and a preferred provider organization (PPO). HMOs are generally more affordable but more restrictive than PPOs, in terms of access to specialists and out-of-network providers.

You see, the out-of-state retirees don’t have an option to choose an HMO — they have to take the PPO. So the legislature thought it would be fair for state taxpayers to pick up more of the tab for their monthly premiums, since they didn’t have the lower-cost choice.

It’s also important to note there’s only a small pool of retired educators who are Medicare ineligible. The Illinois Teachers Retirement System has about 160,000 active members. But there were only a few hundred teachers who had given notice of their intent to retire in 2003 but who were ineligible to buy into Medicare when it began in 2004.

There were 589 retired educators paying higher premiums like Shanahan last year, she testified at a hearing of the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Shanahan has appealed her cause to the Better Government Association and others. In addition to Kadner’s stories in the Daily Southtown, retired educator bloggers Glen Brown and Fred Klonsky have written about her.

She came close to achieving legislative relief a few years ago. She convinced former state Rep. Kevin McCarthy to sponsor a bill that would gradually close the gap in monthly premium costs between Medicare ineligible retirees living in Illinois and those living out of state.

The bill sailed through the House with unanimous support and passed the Senate with only one “no” vote. It landed on the desk of then-Gov. Patrick Quinn, who vetoed it.

“The Illinois Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, had waged a lobbying campaign against it,” Kadner wrote. “Union officials told me they had overlooked the bill in the spring because they were focused on other issues.”

Shanahan keeps pushing to correct what she’s knows is an unfair discrepancy in the system. She’s driven by the knowledge that every month, she’s paying twice as much for health insurance than she would if she lived just 20 miles to the east, to Indiana.

She met for hours with state Rep. Margot McDermed, R-Frankfort, who this year sponsored legislation similar to the McCarthy bill that fellow legislators overwhelmingly supported before they learned of the union’s opposition.

“It was voted down in the pension committee,” McDermed told me. “The committee wasn’t really feeling the love. I didn’t get a single vote.”

The measure would cost taxpayers an additional $500,000 to $700,000 a year, by some estimates. That would cover additional costs paid by those 592 or so retired teachers who pay twice as much for health insurance because they choose to continue living in Illinois.

That amount would decrease each year as the number of affected participants dwindles.

“This group is small and it’s getting smaller,” McDermed pointed out.

Klonsky made the same observation when he wrote about Shanahan’s situation in April.

“Now the number is 500. It is not 100 less because the problem is being solved, if you get my drift. The state is just waiting them out,” he wrote.

Shanahan herself was even more blunt.

“They’re just waiting for us to kick the bucket — the 500 of us,” she told me.

A union representative told Klonsky the union was more concerned about Gov. Bruce Rauner proposing to cut as much as $100 million in state funding for the Teachers Retirement Insurance Program.

The union, it seems, has to pick its battles and it’s more concerned about the possibility of increased costs to tens of thousands of participants than addressing a discrepancy affecting some 500 retirees.

I think Shanahan and others in her situation have paid enough — $82,000 in the past 12 years —and deserve a break. They shouldn’t be penalized any longer for choosing to live in Illinois.

I think it’s a shame a union that represents educators lobbied to block legislation that would have provided relief to a few hundred little old ladies.

It’s too bad the bureaucracy that it is Illinois government lets stand a flawed policy that gives a group of residents — however small — additional motivation to leave the state.

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