NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Funding Status of Retiree Health Plans in the Public Sector

Robert Clark, Melinda S. Morrill

NBER Working Paper No. 16450
Issued in October 2010
NBER Program(s):   HE   PE

While no longer common in the private sector, most public sector employers offer retiree health insurance (RHI) as a retirement benefit to their employees. While these plans are thought to be an important tool for employers to attract, retain, motivate, and ultimately retire workers, they represent a large and growing cost. This paper reviews what is currently known about RHI in the public sector, while highlighting many important unanswered research questions. The analysis is informed by detailed data from states on their liabilities associated with RHI, which were produced in accordance with the 2004 Government Accounting Standards Board Rule 45 (GASB 45). We consider the extent of the unfunded liabilities states face and explore what factors may explain the variation in liabilities across states. The importance and sustainability of RHI plans in the public sector ultimately depends on how workers view and value this post-retirement benefit, yet little is known about how RHI directly impacts the public sector labor market. We conclude with a discussion of the future of RHI plans in the public sector.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16450

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