‘People are gonna die because of this’: Retired Ohio police and firefighters grapple with deep pension benefit cuts

The cash stipends that were promised vanished from their accounts this month, prompting outrage and confusion.

‘People are gonna die because of this’: Retired Ohio police and firefighters grapple with deep pension benefit cuts
Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund Executive Director John Gallagher refused to speak to Cleveland 19 regarding deep cuts affecting scores of retirees. (Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Retirees who got their health insurance through the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund were shocked when they saw the choices they had after the fund decided to get out of the health care business.

‘People are gonna die because of this’: Retired Ohio police and firefighters grapple with deep pensi

Rather than providing insurance, the fund gave retirees a stipend to buy insurance, but only from one company: AON.

They were displeased with the high deductibles and the fact that only HMO’s were available. Now they are even more upset as the stipends are tied up in red tape.

Diana Gunn is furious over the drastic changes and cuts to benefits.

Her husband Kevin is a retired firefighter battling early stage Alzheimer’s. She was shocked last week when her promised stipend did not appear in their account.

“I was having chest pains Thursday morning. My son came over and said, ‘You want to go to the hospital?’ No, let me die here and then you can sue the pension board," she said.

She was about to give up. She first brought the issue of health care cuts to Cleveland 19 a month ago.

In the days since, she has experienced nothing but frustration. The promised stipend from the pension board had been in her account for payment on Feb. 5, then disappeared.

“It’s gone, poof. So I posted it on Facebook and then bang, bang, bang, bang. Everybody woke up, everybody’s stipend is gone,” she said.

We heard many of the same stories at the January meeting of the Pension Board, from members who are now joined together in a Facebook page, one warning “People are gonna die because of this.”

Another was at his wits end, telling the board “What the hell is happening. I’m giving up, I’m done.”

Members didn’t get a lot of answers, and neither did we when we approached Executive Director John Gallagher, who we described at the time as dismissive.

It raised this question in Diana “He ran from you. If he can’t go on camera and have an interview what does that say about the man?”

Diana can no longer take her medication. It costs $4,000 a month, and she can’t afford it. Her husband Kevin has been prescribed a $4,300 brain scan for Alzheimer’s. She can’t afford it.

A huge problem for many police and fire retirees is that working in the public sector they’ve never paid into Social Security, or Medicare. They are completely reliant on the pension fund.

Ironically those who did work second jobs have reduced social security benefits.

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