New York's Bill for Retiree Health Care: Denominator Please

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The NYT reported that state, local, and county governments in New York face a liability of $200 billion for retiree health insurance payments. These governments have not budgeted for this liability.

It would have been helpful to include a measure of future income so that readers could assess the importance of this cost. If New York State grows at roughly the same rate as the overall economy, then its total income (discounted at a 4.5 percent rate) would be over $37 trillion. This puts the unfunded liability for health care for New York's public sector employees at approximately 0.5 percent of income. 

It is also worth noting that much of this cost is due to the projection that health care costs in the United States will continue to grow at a pace that is far out of line with growth in the rest of the world. If the country were to adopt free trade policies in health care, then this cost could be drastically reduced. In other words, if U.S. trade policy was not so protectionist in this area, state and local government retiree health care costs would be far more affordable.

The article also includes comments that retirees can get full health care benefits as early as age 55. It would have been worth mentioning that this only applies to workers who have worked 30 years or more, which is not most workers.