Assembly votes to let retirees in health plan

About 5,000 retired at Beth Steel affected

April 08, 2003|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

The General Assembly passed legislation last night to help Bethlehem Steel Corp. retirees who are not old enough for Medicare to obtain state-backed insurance coverage.

Under the legislation, Bethlehem retirees between the ages of 55 and 64 would be able to obtain insurance under the Maryland Health Insurance Plan.

The insurance would be open to retirees regardless of their medical histories and would be available July 1.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected today to sign the bill, which was passed by the House 132 to 0.

Coverage would benefit about a quarter of the steelmaker's 20,000 retirees and dependents in the Baltimore area.

Bethlehem, which has operated in Chapter 11 bankruptcy since October 2001, terminated retiree health care benefits March 31 as it prepared to sell itself to International Steel Group Inc. of Cleveland.

The termination left about 95,000 retirees and dependents scrambling to find replacement coverage.

Through the Maryland Health Insurance Plan, retirees are able to offset their health care coverage costs through a 65 percent federal tax credit.

The tax credit is part of a federal act that provides relief to people whose employment has been affected by international competition.

So far, the tax credit is available only to retirees who enroll in the state's plan or COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, said Del. Peter A. Hammen, the Baltimore Democrat who proposed the retiree legislation.

Until Sept. 30, retirees would receive the same health care coverage under COBRA that they received under Bethlehem, but the retirees would have to pay the full premium. That could cost more than $800 per month for a couple..

The state plan's monthly premiums would be $287 for a person between 55 and 59. For people between 60 and 64, the monthly premium is $308. The 65 percent tax credit covers premium costs.

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