Hamilton County Schools retirees will be able to stay on the district's employee health insurance plan while they wait to receive their retirement benefits, thanks to a school board vote Thursday night.
The addendum to the employee benefits plan, which previously discontinued coverage after an employee's retirement was effective, was an emergency add-on to an already packed agenda after the board was told dozens of retirees might see a delay in receiving their retirement checks and medical supplements because of delayed submission to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System.
Jane Baker, a former 45-year employee of Hamilton County Schools who addressed the board Thursday night, said her application for retirement benefits was not received by the state's Department of Finance and Administration's Benefits Administration until April 24, despite her submission on March 14.
According to the retirement system, applications should be submitted 60-90 days before effective retirement dates to ensure prompt processing.
Baker, who found out about the problem only when she sought out her medical benefits, said she is going on Medicare as of July 1, but she was told she might not receive her retirement checks until August.
She asked the board to allow retirees to stay on their current medical insurance plan through the district until they receive their retirement benefits and insurance coverage, which is through POMCO.
The board unanimously approved such a move, passing a motion crafted by board attorney Scott Bennett "to permit any employee who made a timely application to retire and whose supplemental insurance with POMCO has not yet attached, to continue on the employee health plans secondary to Medicare month-to-month until POMCO attaches."
Baker also presented an email from former Ooltewah High assistant principal Stephanie Allen, who was not present at Thursday's board meeting because she was undergoing a chemotherapy treatment.
Allen said that as of June 20 none of her paperwork had been received by the retirement system.
"I spoke with TCRS [Thursday] concerning my retirement papers and was told none had been submitted, and that when they finally are submitted. My first check will be at least 60 days out from that date, which will be the end of August at the earliest," Allen's email read.
"At this point, because the retirement incentive will not be distributed until August and the earliest my retirement check will arrive is the end of August, I will be going at least eight weeks without a paycheck or retirement check, which will affect my household finances drastically," the email continued.
Board member Rhonda Thurman pressed central office administrators, including Keith Fogleman, the district's new chief talent officer, about why such a problem occurred.
"What are we going to do to make sure this doesn't happen again?" Thurman asked. "This is a situation. We need to fix this. Jane has worked for this school system for 45 years. We need to fix this."
Fogleman acknowledged that retirement papers are processed in his department by Human Resources, and he acknowledged the severity of the problem.
"I agree with you, this is a big deal. Retiring and not having the paperwork flow the right way, that's a big deal. So I will tell you that we will get to the bottom of it," he said.
Fogleman also confirmed this year's additional retirement incentives, which originally were set to be paid out in August, would be paid to retirees by the end of this month.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.