Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday defended his decision to save $108.7 million-a-year by phasing out the city's 55 percent subsidy for retiree health care and forcing 30,000 retired city employees to make the switch to ObamaCare.
"There's another way to upset people, which is saddle `em with a half-billion dollars worth of costs with no way to pay it. That, too, will have a lot of other people upset," Emanuel said.
"You get the freedom of looking at a question with one peephole. I have to look at it from the whole perspective...What is now a $109 million cost to the taxpayers grows to a half-billion dollars in a short time. So, I've got to make sure people continue to get health care and have the options to avail themselves of health care, but not in a way that saddles taxpayers with a cost they have no way to pay for."
The mayor acknowledged that retiree health care is an emotional issue that triggered a lawsuit and resulted in the 55 percent subsidy he wants to phase out by January, 2017.
"We balance those equities. Do it in a thoughtful and sensitive way. If only I made the decisions that don't upset anybody else, it's in the bottom drawer in the corner all the way in the back. It doesn't exist in the office I ran for that I'm proud to hold," he said.
"What comes with the office is, you've got to make the tough decisions that balance a lot of different equities and do what's best for the city and everybody involved."
Union leaders and retirees have accused the mayor of foisting them on the great unknown of ObamaCare before anybody really knows how it will work. Emanuel doesn't look at it that way. He believes the fears are unfounded.
"Everybody will get health care. Our oldest people will continue on the exact [same] plan. Those on Medicare will continue to get Medicare and the chance to have support so they can buy additional coverage. Our early retirees--we're giving them a runway until 2017 as we transition people to the health care exchanges that will offer them the opportunity to buy health care . Some will pay less. Some will not," he said.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Emanuel has decided to extend the city's 55 percent subsidy for retiree health care by six months--until Jan. 1--then phase it out over the next three years after giving ObamaCare a chance to shake out.
But, 5,500 of the oldest and most vulnerable retirees will be guaranteed a 55 percent subsidy as long as they live.
The City Council approved the existing retiree health care settlement and must approve any changes. Aldermen already on the hot-seat to approve Emanuel's controversial parking meter changes are already getting an earful from thousands of angry and frightened retirees.
"My biggest fear is that some of them won't be able to live within their means. They have mortgages to pay. Many still have educations they're paying for--older children in their teens with college educations to pay for. They want to enjoy their golden years," said Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th), whose Southwest Side ward is home to scores of city retirees.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) agreed with union leaders that Emanuel's "priorities" are out of whack.
"They keep saying we don't have the money for this kind of stuff and the money is sitting in TIF's. They're gonna give $125 million to DePaul. There's the money right there," Waguespack said.
"Stop telling us we need to go find other money when it's sitting there in TIF accounts and funneled over to private concerns when your priorities are to lop off access to health care for people who put in a lifetime of service."