Birmingham City Council weighs options on retiree health insurance - set to double next month

Birmingham retirees are putting up a fight. They don't want their insurance rates doubling. Solutions range from a hiring freeze to rate hikes across the board. City administrators and council members spent the evening debating how this should be handled and how this all came about. Bottom line, there's a nearly $5 million deficit and city leaders have to figure out how to make it up. {}"I'm glad I did it," Retired Police Officer, Michael Bell said. "I would still do it again."Michael Bell retired from the Birmingham Police Department after being severely injured in the line of duty. {}"I've had heart surgery, I've had surgery on both my eyes, and I've had surgery on my neck," Bell said.His insurance to cover medical expenses is critical. {}"I just hope they do the right thing," Bell said. "I hope they make a fair solution to this."A council work session left concern over who will pay the deficit brought on by a change in insurance. The city and tax payers, the current employees or the retirees are the only options. {}"This is a crisis," Steven Hoyt, Council Member said. "This is an emergency to resend these increases completely, get it out of fund balance, and as we go forward we have to come up with a plan in terms of how we deal with this matter.""I think they were blind sided by this," David Crews, President Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge One said. "I don't think they knew what was going on but it appears they are looking for a solution to fix it."Here are the four options councilors are debating:{}1) Stick with the recently authorized plan with rates more than double for retirees. {}2) Continue with plan and raise rates by 30% for current and retirees. {}3) A hiring freeze on funded vacant positions. {}4) Or city wide layoffs. {}{}"It's created a panic," Crews said. "When you've got retirees that are on a fixed income who are retired and don't work anywhere else, you're looking at a 200% increase. You have to make a choice of medicine, do I eat or pay my insurance? It's really sad."Council members say the next committee meeting is set for Thursday. If the city council takes no action, the heath insurance rates for retirees under 65 will more than double next month.