The Spokane City Council on Monday agreed to spend an estimated $5 million over the next 50 years to reimburse police retirees for Medicare payments.
The unanimous decision reverses the council’s 2006 vote declining to make the payments for officers hired from March 1970 through September 1977. Medicare Part B covers doctor visits and other care for enrollees 65 or older for $96.40 a month.
Spokane was one of the few Washington cities that didn’t reimburse officers for the payments.
Retirees argued they were told when they were hired that their medical benefits would be covered in full. They added that the city declined to let them pay into Social Security.
“I’m very happy that they’re giving us something that they promised,” said Det. Jerry Keller, one of the eight affected officers not yet retired. The decision affects 93 officers.
Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said she was concerned the benefits would be paid by taxpayers, some of whom don’t have health insurance. But McLaughlin said she supported the change because of the council’s September decision to approve the payments for firefighters hired through September 1977. To keep the fire pension fund solvent, the city will need to pay an extra $4.5 million in 2019 and $5.3 million 2020.
Because the city doesn’t have a similar police pension fund, Monday’s change to benefits will cost about $7,000 this year and gradually increase to $208,000 in 2026, according to a study by Milliman Consultants and Actuaries. After that, the annual cost will decline as retirees die.
Before Monday’s vote, the Part B payments for the city’s 132 police officers hired before March 1970 already were reimbursed.