Savannah River Site retiree benefit changes continue to stir controversy

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The impact of pending benefit changes for Savannah River Site retirees might be eased with transition payments or a more gradual phase-in for higher insurance costs, according to two South Carolina congressmen.

“We continue to hear from retirees in our state,” wrote U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in a joint letter to David Huizenga, the Energy Department’s senior manager for environmental management, asking for a meeting to re-evaluate the planned changes.

The Savannah River Site Retiree Association, in a meeting last month attended by about 600 people, laid out plans to oppose what it describes as benefit changes by the DOE and its main contractor – Savan­nah River Nuclear Solutions – that will increase medical premiums and drop retirees 65 and older from the site’s health plan, and instead provide a stipend to buy Medicare or Medigap plans.

Graham and Wilson have asked for a meeting between officials from the Energy Department, SRNS and the Retiree Association before the announced changes go into effect.

Huizenga was asked whether a one-time payment might financially assist retirees during the transition. “SRS retirees, particularly those who retired before 1998, may prove vulnerable to the rate increase and any help that could be provided would be appreciated,” the letter said.

A planned, three-year period to phase in a cost-share increase, the letter said, may be inadequate. “Any effort that could be made to institute the proposed increase over a more gradual period of time would be greatly beneficial for the retirees,” they wrote.

The Retiree Association has asked for an agreement to grandfather existing retirees regarding any changes to medical benefits, or to at least postpone further action on the changes until the legislators’ requested meeting can be held.

The association also contends a study that found SRS retiree benefits were greater than benefits at 16 comparison companies was flawed.

According to a Sept. 28 letter from the consultant to SRNS, the study compared existing SRS workers and retirees to “new hires” at the comparison companies.

“It is important to note that the comparison of Incumbent employee benefits to the other companies’ new hire benefits is, from one prospective, not a fair comparison,” the consultant wrote, adding that they were unable to track all levels of grandfathered benefits.

SRNS officials declined Tuesday to comment on the status of the program changes or the letter to Huizenga.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119,


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