Senate bill would help retired firefighters and cops pay for medical coverage

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A Senate committee voted Wednesday to advance legislation that will make it easier for retired public safety officers to get a tax advantage to pay for health care coverage.

Enhancing American Retirement Now has been endorsed by the National Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, and the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The legislation is supported by Sen. Mark Warner and Seventh District Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, whose Wally Bunker HELPS Retirees Improvement Act is part of the bill.

Wally Bunker is a 74-year-old retired police officer who now lives in Culpeper. He was a police lieutenant for the Suffolk Police Department for almost 22 years, where he served in patrols, investigations, internal affairs, communications and undercover cases.

When he retired, he was unable to access a key tax benefit to help pay for his health and long-term insurance.

“America’s first responders go above and beyond to keep our communities and neighbors safe. When the intense physical and psychological demands of the job force some of these brave men and women into early retirement, they should not be penalized. “Spanberger said.

“To make sure these local heroes don’t end up without coverage, we need to make sure retired officers can use tax-free payments from their pension plans to cover health insurance costs. Today, we’re one step closer to earning that tax benefit for every retired officer — in Virginia and across the country — who has earned it. I am grateful to the U.S. senators who recognized the need to address this issue and took action by getting this bill out of committee,” Spanberger said.

Many public safety officers retire early due to the unique physical demands and hazards they face on the job. As a result, many are losing access to their employer-sponsored health coverage, but are still years away from being eligible for Medicare.

To ease the burden of direct payment for health insurance, Congress included in the Local Public Safety Retiree Health Care Improvement Act a provision that allows retired public safety officers to withdraw $3,000 tax-free from their retirement plan each year to pay for health care or long-term care insurance premiums.

The 2006 law required pension plans to pay the $3,000 directly to the insurer, but many smaller pension plans in Virginia and other states use a third-party system for disbursing payments, preventing many retirees to access the benefit.

Provisions that would eliminate the “direct pay” provision and ensure retired Virginia first responders can access the benefit, were incorporated into a broader package of retirement reforms passed by the Senate Finance Committee today. today under the EARN law.

The EARN Act is expected to be combined with a set of related proposals that were approved earlier this month by the HELP committee, and the full package will be presented to the full Senate in the coming weeks.

“Virginia’s first responders put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect our communities — the least we can do is ensure they are cared for in retirement,” Senator Warner said. “This sensible bill will make it easier for retired firefighters and police officers to access quality health care after a working career to keep our communities and families safe.”

Norman D. Briggs