‘It’s not right’: Retired Myrtle Beach workers rally, protest against healthcare benefit cuts

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 7:06 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Dozens of retired workers say the city of Myrtle Beach is breaking its promise.

They say city leaders are now denying the full healthcare coverage that their families desperately need.

The Professional Firefighters Association of South Carolina hosted a “Fairness for First Responders’ rally outside the Ted C. Collins Law Enforcement Center, in protest of the healthcare changes.

Workers said the plans started changing in 2009.

Retired firefighter Al Nord said he joined the Myrtle Beach Fire Department in the early 90s, and during that time period, he said the city offered lifetime benefits for city workers.

“Around 2009, instead of doing lifetime healthcare, if you did 20 years of service they would put $100,000 dollars aside for a health retirement account,” Nord said.

Each year, the city would give the workers money toward the city’s health insurance. The amount was based on service.

But starting next year, neither workers nor their immediate family members are eligible for the city’s health benefits, just money toward a plan of their choice.

Many of the retirees who attended the rally said they were expecting to receive the city’s health coverage for themselves and loved ones until they qualify for Medicare at age 65.

But they said they recently received a letter notifying them their city benefits will be cut.

“Now they telling us we gonna have to go out on our own and get our own insurance,” said retired city worker Randy Richardson.

“It’s just really tough, the city started saying these guys give their heart, blood, sweat and tears, and now you’re kicked out and you’re on your own,” Nord said.

One worker who retired before the age of 50 said it’s not fair because like some of his colleagues, part of the reason he signed on for the job was because of the benefits.

“There’s a bank of money set aside for the retirees now to pay our health insurance benefits. And with this new system, they’re asking us to go to, we won’t have access to that money until we hit Medicare. I retired at 45 years old. I got to wait until I’m 65 years old to access that money now. That’s not fair, that’s not right ” he said.

City spokesperson Mark Kruea said workers who retired before the age of 65 were previously were allowed to stay on the city’s self-funded health insurance plan.

He said the city made the decision to no longer offer that option, due to budget reasons. He further stated there’s more affordable and comparable coverage available for workers from the private market.

“It actually goes into effect in January 2022, which is why some urgency exists on both sides,” Kruea said. “We want the retirees in this group to explore and choose an option before it’s too late and they are shut out. They want the city to reconsider. Our consultants report that the insurance in the marketplace is both affordable and comparable to our existing plan.”

Many of the workers attended the Myrtle Beach City Council on Tuesday morning, where some pleaded with leaders to find a way to reinstate their benefits in the budget.

Mayor Brenda Bethune said councilmembers will discuss this issue further.

“We will deal with facts and not let our emotions take over our intellect,” Bethune said. “All I can assure you of is we will continue to look into this situation.”

“I hope they go back and change it,” Richardson said. “Let’s have the $100,000. Keep that or let us go to the city clinic free again and get our prescriptions because that’s been pulled from us also.”

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