Conway City Councilwoman Jean Timbes had a difficult decision to make recently due to an odd Medicare policy.

She had to make the choice of continuing to receive Medicare as her primary health insurance provider, or, resign from office.

After a lot of soul searching she decided to stay on city council.

Across the United States, public servants of Medicare elegibity age are struggling with the same dilemma as Mrs. Timbes. Some have decided to give up public service in order to keep their Medicare coverage.

This is a troubling development that could discourage many older Americans from seeking public office in the future.

For the past 15 years, Mrs. Timbes, a retired school teacher, has benefitted from a very good health insurance policy administered by the state. She likes the coverage and wants to keep it.

She qualifies for coverage under the City of Conway’s health plan, but it is not as beneficial to her as the state retirement health care plan.

Here’s where it gets complicated.

Medicare cannot be the primary insurance for anyone employed by a job that offers health care benefits, such as the City of Conway.

To comply with the Medicare policy, people like Mrs. Timbes would have to withdraw from their existing retiree group coverage, join the new health care group, and make Medicare the secondary payer. Or, people in this situation could refuse health coverage from their retirement group and have Medicare coverage only.

For purposes of the Medicare policy, Mrs. Timbes is considered an employee of the city.

Timbes traveled to Columbia to talk with PEBA (which administers the state retirement plan,) but did not secure relief for Mrs. Timbes.

“There are a lot of cloudy issues, but the bottom line is they’ve got you,” Mrs. Timbes said.

She is concerned now that this might keep some other older people, who would make good council members, from running, and theirs is a voice she thinks needs to be on council to help give a full, mature view to the issues.

“My concern now is, after I’ve fleshed it out, is the impact it could have on people in the future. If I could not go back at any point that I chose to, I could not have stayed,” she said.

Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy and City Councilman Larry White will soon have to make a similar decision about Medicare that Mrs. Timbes faced.

So far, compliance efforts by Medicare have impacted city and county officials the most. If the effort broadens, it could affect school boards, elected constitutional officers and perhaps even the S.C. General Assembly.

As you might suspect, Congress has conveniently exempted itself from this Medicare policy.

In order to keep older Americans seeking public office, I think this particular Medicare provision should be reviewed.

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Steve Robertson is owner and publisher of the Waccamaw Publishers family of community newspapers

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