Cantwell bill protects health benefits of public workers

By:  Annette Cary, Tri-CityHerald.com

Legislation that would help protect the health benefits of many public employees in the Mid-Columbia has been introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

The bill would allow the health savings accounts of public sector employees to be passed on to their estate at their death. Some of the accounts have more than $100,000.

It's an estate benefit already extended to employees and retirees of state-run public retirement systems. But it does not extend to employees and retirees of political subdivisions, such as counties, cities, ports, public utility districts and school districts.

The legislation "provides a technical fix that will allow our employees more flexibility in designating beneficiaries," said Jim Sanders, general manager of the Benton PUD, in a statement. "This important health care savings tool gives our employees the opportunity to save now to pay for the high cost of medical insurance when they retire."

Among others supporting the legislation are Energy Northwest, Franklin PUD, the Richland and Kennewick School Districts, the Port of Kennewick and Benton, Franklin and Grant counties.

Now, employees of political subdivisions only can pass on their savings to a spouse or dependent, such as a minor child, as the result of an unintended consequence of legislation passed in 2008.

"This bill will protect the health benefits that thousands of hardworking Washingtonians have earned over their careers," Cantwell said in a statement. She cosponsored the legislation with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

The legislation would affect about 55,000 Washington employees and 600 employers, said Cantwell's staff. Including Oregon and Idaho, the number increases to 80,000 employees.

Read more here: http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2011/07/14/1566272/cantwell-bill-protects-health.html#storylink=cpy