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AGLO 1974 No. 85 - October 07, 1974
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- EMPLOYEES ‑- INSURANCE ‑- AUTHORITY TO PAY MEDICAL INSURANCE PREMIUMS FOR RETIRED COUNTY EMPLOYEES

(1) A county does not presently have the authority to pay medical insurance premiums for its retired former employees except those who were, before retirement, members of the law enforcement officers' and fire fighters' retirement system.
 
(2) A county does not have the present authority to make payroll deductions from the salary of its current employees to fund the payment of medical insurance premiums for them after their retirement.

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                                                                 October 7, 1974

Honorable Ronald L. Hendry
Pierce County
Prosecuting Attorney
946 County-City Building
Tacoma, Washington 98402                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1974 No. 85

Attention:  !ttMr. Robert J. Backstein
            Chief Civil Deputy

Dear Sir:
 
            By recent letter you have noted that under RCW 41.26.150, counties and other employers of members of the law enforcement officers' and fire fighters' retirement system are authorized to pay certain medical insurance premiums for,
 
            ". . . retired former employees who were, before retirement, members of said retirement system, . . ."
 
            In the light of this statute you have asked whether Pierce county may similarly make insurance premium payments for all of its retired employees; and secondly you have asked, in the alternative, whether that county may deduct, with the employee's consent, a certain amount from each paycheck for placement in a fund to pay health insurance premiums after retirement.
 
            We believe that both of these questions must be answered in the negative.
 
                                                                     ANALYSIS
 
            We have above quoted the pertinent language of RCW 41.26.150, which is a part of the statutory laws governing the Washington law enforcement officers' and fire fighters' retirement system.  By its own terms, however, this statute is applicable only to those retired former employees of a county or other municipality who were, before retirement, members of that particular retirement system.
 
             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
            The only authority possessed by a county such as Pierce to provide medical insurance coverage for its other categories of employees is that contained in RCW 41.04.180, the full text of which reads as follows:
 
            "Any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state acting through its principal supervising official or governing body may, whenever funds shall be available for that purpose provide for all or a part of hospitalization and medical aid for its employees and their dependents through contracts with regularly constituted insurance carriers or with health care service contractors as defined in chapter 48.44 RCW, for group hospitalization and medical aid policies or plans:  PROVIDED, That any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state acting through its principal supervising official or governing body shall provide the employees thereof a choice of policies or plans through contracts with not less than two regularly constituted insurance carriers or health care service contractors:  AND PROVIDED FURTHER, That any county may provide such hospitilization and medical aid to county elected officials and their dependents on the same basis as such hospitalization and medical aid is provided to other county employees and their dependents:  PROVIDED FURTHER, That provision for school district personnel shall not be made under this section but shall be as provided for in RCW 28A.58.420."
 
            This statute, unlike RCW 41.26.150, supra, is expressly limited in its application to persons who are, at the time of their coverage under a medical insurance plan, employees of the county or other municipality, or dependents of such employees.  Therefore, recalling that a county such as Pierce has only such powers as have been expressly granted to it by the legislature or the constitution, or as may necessarily be implied from such expressly granted powers,1/  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] it follows that your first question must be answered in the negative.
 
            Likewise, we believe that your second question must also be so answered; for we can find nothing in RCW 41.04.180, supra, or any other existing statute, which can be said to authorize a county to deduct, even with the employee's consent, a certain amount from each paycheck for placement in a fund to pay the health insurance premiums after retirement.
 
            If, therefore, it is deemed by your county to be desirable to do either of the two things contemplated by your request for the benefit of retired or soon to be retired county employees not members of the law enforcement officers' and fire fighters' retirement system, we can only suggest that you bring this matter to the attention of the legislature for the enactment of enabling legislation.

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
 
Very truly yours,
 
SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***
 
1/Accord, Sasse v. King County, 196 Wash. 242, 82 P.2d 536 (1938), and authorities cited therein.

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