Amid Increasing Health Insurance Costs, The “Public Safety Healthcare Retirees Act” Would Raise the Value of a Key Benefit that Allows Retired Police Officers & Fire Fighters to Cover Medical Expenses
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), Dan Kildee (D-MI-08), and Don Bacon (R-NE-02) today introduced bipartisan legislation to make sure retired public safety officers receive the benefits they have earned.
Many police officers and fire fighters retire earlier than other occupations due to the unique physical demands, stress, and job hazards they face on the job. Unfortunately, many lose access to their employer-sponsored healthcare coverage upon retirement — yet they’re still many years away from being eligible for Medicare, often leading to significant out-of-pocket expenses incurred by retirees and their families. In response, as part of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, Congress included a provision that allows retired police officers and firefighters to withdraw $3,000 tax-free from their pension plan each year to pay healthcare or long-term care insurance premiums. However, this amount has not increased since 2006 — meaning it has not kept up with years of rising healthcare and long-term insurance costs.
To make sure these retirees receive the benefit they deserve, Spanberger, Fitzpatrick, Kildee, and Bacon introduced the Public Safety Healthcare Retirees Act. This legislation would increase the pre-tax distribution public safety officers can use from their pension plan from $3,000 to $6,000.
This provision builds on Spanberger’s Wally Bunker Healthcare Enhancement for Local Public Safety (HELPS) Retirees Improvement Act, which was signed into law late last year. The Wally Bunker HELPS Retirees Improvement Act removed the requirement that pension fund distributions must go directly to the insurer to be eligible for tax-free status — and it cut red tape to allow retired first responders to access this tax-free benefit. Now, this new legislation would increase the benefits of retired police officers and fire fighters to reflect their rising healthcare and insurance costs.
“America can and must do more to show our support for our retired fire fighters and police officers,” said Spanberger. “Last year, I was proud to see the President sign my bipartisan Wally Bunker HELPS Retirees Improvement Act into law. That legislation was the first step in righting a wrong and repealing the misguided direct payment requirement. We can keep making progress by making sure that this benefit amount reflects the rising healthcare and insurance costs we have seen since 2006. In making this commonsense adjustment, we would make sure retired public safety officers can enjoy the peace of mind and financial security they deserve. Every retired officer in Virginia and across the country would benefit from this long overdue increase — and it’s a long time coming.”
“Our first responders serve and protect our communities, and they deserve the best medical and long-term care following their years of service,” said Fitzpatrick. “The Public Safety Healthcare Retirees Act recognizes the service given by public safety officers who have retired and ensures that they face no financial penalties, and I’m proud to co-sponsor this important legislation.”
“First responders put their lives on the line every day to serve our communities, and like all public safety and frontline workers, they deserve to retire with dignity,” said Kildee. “Because of the demanding nature of their job, first responders must often retire early, meaning many lose access to employer-sponsored health care before they can enroll in Medicare. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill, with Republicans and Democrats, so retired public safety officers don’t face a tax penalty when they use their pension to cover health insurance costs.”
“This helps public safety officers who have put their lives on the line better utilize their pensions amongst rising inflation,” said Bacon. “I’m pleased to join Rep. Spanberger for this important issue.”
The Public Safety Healthcare Retirees Act is endorsed by several nationwide organizations representing millions of retired public safety officers — including the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), National Troopers Coalition (NTC), and National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO).
“Fire fighters and EMS personnel work dangerous, physically demanding jobs that often lead to them retiring before becoming Medicare eligible – requiring them to spend much of their limited retirement income on health insurance. We must end this penalty on public servants,” said Edward A. Kelly, General President, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). “The IAFF applauds Rep. Spanberger for introducing legislation to help our retirees save their hard-earned money and enjoy the healthy, dignified retirement they deserve.”
“In 2006, Congress enacted the HELPS Retirees Act, which provided a modest tax benefit to help retired public safety officers afford health insurance by allowing the use, on a pre-tax basis, of up to $3,000 annually from their pension funds to pay for premiums on health care and long-term care insurance,” said Patrick Yoes, National President, Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). “Now, 17 years later, we support increasing the amount of the benefit to $6,000 to reflect the increased costs of health care. We’re grateful for the leadership of Representatives Spanberger, Fitzpatrick, Kildee, and Bacon on this issue.”
“The HELPS Retirees provision of the Pension Protection Act of 2006 provides public safety officers, who often retire earlier than other occupations because of the physical demands and unique job hazards they face, with means to more affordable healthcare options,” said Bill Johnson, Executive Director, National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO). “Unfortunately, health care costs have gone up dramatically since 2006 and the $3,000 per year permitted to be utilized from the retiree’s pension under the provision is no longer adequate to cover even half a year’s worth of health insurance premiums. By enhancing this important provision, the Public Safety Healthcare Retirees Act will help preserve the retirement security and the health of those public servants who selflessly serve and protect our communities. On behalf of the over 241,000 sworn law enforcement officers NAPO represents, we thank Representative Spanberger for her leadership and support.”
Click here to read the full bill text.
The Public Safety Healthcare Retirees Act builds on legislation signed into law late last year — the Wally Bunker HELPS Retirees Improvement Act.
The Wally Bunker HELPS Retirees Improvement Act was named after Wally Bunker, a 74-year-old retired police officer now living in Culpeper, Virginia — in Spanberger’s district. Bunker was a Police Lieutenant for the Suffolk Police Department in Suffolk, Virginia for nearly 22 years — where he served in patrol, investigations, internal affairs, communications, and undercover cases. Since his retirement and the passage of the original HELPS Retirees Act, Bunker had been unable to access the pre-tax benefit for health and long-term insurance due to the direct payment requirement.
Spanberger and former U.S. Representative Steve Chabot (R-OH-01) introduced the Wally Bunker HELPS Retirees Improvement Act in March 2022.