Readers of the New York Times earlier this month would have noticed an article about the enormous long-term impact of providing retired public workers with health benefits. The scary number in the headline was $200 Billion. The Times also provided an info graphic detailing the per capita impacts for the largest cities in the state, with New Rochelle actually comparing rather favorably to our sister cities at about $3,000 per capita in unfunded future medical bills.
This is a real issue and a serious long-term challenge. Among other things, it highlights the importance of controlling health care costs and underlines the urgency of the health insurance reforms adopted by the federal government earlier this year.
Nonetheless, the article was a bit inflammatory, cautioning that “localities will be forced at some point to choose between paying their retirees’ medical costs and paying the investors who hold their bonds.” The truth is that these are known liabilities that will be paid out in budgets over the next several decades. This issue has emerged in the news because recent changes in government accounting standards have required the inclusion of this specific liability in annual financial statements from localities — meaning that the aggregate impact across the state is only now being quantified. And, of course, the recent recession and lingering economic downturn make even more worrisome the idea of rising health care costs stretching many years into the future.