- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire state retirees under the age of 65 will see their health care premium contributions increase by about $46 per person each month come Jan. 1.

The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted Tuesday on the change as part of an effort to close a $10.6 million shortfall in the state’s retiree health benefit program. All retirees will face an increase in their prescription drug retail co-pays of $5 for nongeneric brand drugs and a $10 increase for mail copayments. Together, those changes will save the state nearly $5 million. Another $5.4 million in savings will come from tapping into the plan’s surplus fund.

Of the state’s roughly 12,000 retirees, about 8,800 are over age 65 and do not pay premium contributions. That will not change. But the contributions for people under 65 will increase from 12.5 to 17.5 percent.

Part of the shortfall is due to an unexpected increase in prescription drug costs, and lawmakers say they’re working on legislation to create a long-term fix for the benefit program.

“Everything before us today simply puts a band-aid over the problem to get us through the biennium,” Republican Sen. Jerry Little said. “What we’re trying to do is find a way to address the pharmacy-related costs in a matter that is the least painful as possible.”

The State Employee’s Association does not support the change.

“They keep kicking the can down the road and doing a political blame game,” said Rich Gulla, president of the union. “It’s just very saddening and disheartening knowing they’re treating hardworking people that dedicated their lives to state service without any respect at all.”

But lawmakers who backed the plan say raising premiums for one group is better than an earlier proposal that would have raised deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums for all retirees. Rep. Neal Kurk said only raising the premiums ensures a higher cost burden isn’t placed on people who become ill.

Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro said the committee could have raised the premium contributions to 15 percent and turned to electricity savings in other agencies to cover the rest of the costs. D’Allesandro voted against the premium increase alongside Democratic Reps. Cindy Rosenwald and Dan Eaton and Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn.

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