Lifetime health benefit for ex-county leaders to be re-examined

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AUBURN — A lingering benefit for Androscoggin County’s past elected leaders — free health care insurance for life — will be the topic of a public hearing Wednesday.

“I’d like to hear directly from elected officials about why they deserve it,” County Commissioner Jonathan LaBonte said.

The current three-member commission is considering ending the benefit, now being drawn by former commissioners, registers, clerks and others.

The price to keep it going is too high, Chairman Randall Greenwood said. This year, the benefit is projected to cost the county about $80,000.

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Currently serving commissioners receive health care. However, when Greenwood and his fellow commissioners leave office, their insurance will vanish.

In 2004, the three-member county commission ended the benefit for incoming leaders. However, they grandfathered the insurance for those who had already spent as few as six years in elected office.

“It is my position that the county should not be funding health insurance for past elected officials who are no longer serving,” Greenwood said.

Commissioner Elaine Makas said she is in favor of maintaining the benefit as a matter of fairness.

“Whether they should have had it in the first place is not an issue,” she said.

Rather it was a benefit they were told to expect. If people did their jobs with this as an understood benefit, they ought to keep collecting, she said.

LaBonte said he is undecided.

“I’m not squarely in a camp,” he said.

No changes are planned yet. The benefit is budgeted though the end of 2010.

If commissioners vote to end the insurance, it would likely end at the start of 2011.

Health insurance has been a tough matter for the county.

Last summer, commissioners decided to end health insurance for the surviving spouses of retired employees. That action led to a lawsuit from former elected officials and deputies.

The suit is still making its way through the courts.

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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