Former Lexington County deputy Eddie Richardson says the injuries he suffered while stopping a burglary suspect last year make it difficult for him to sit for long or to walk, even with a cane.
Pain in his right leg, hip and lower back make it “a struggle to do anything other than breathe, and there are days when that’s tough,” said Richardson, who has undergone three surgeries and is facing a fourth.
Adding to his struggles are concerns about health insurance, specifically how to pay for it. The injuries left Richardson permanently disabled and forced him to retire. Purchasing insurance as a disabled retiree is too expensive, he said.
Richardson is disappointed that Lexington County Council decided during a closed-door discussion Oct. 10 not to provide him health insurance coverage. Council members say no vote was taken, but the consensus was to deny the request.
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Some council members cited the cost of providing insurance to him as well as other county retirees in similar situations.
Richardson feels betrayed, saying the loss of insurance is contrary to assurances from law enforcement leaders that “if anything happens, we will take care of you and your family.”
He was injured Aug. 1, 2016, as he approached what authorities say was a suspected burglar in a stolen small sedan parked in the Edmund area. The suspect, Bryan Byrd, hit Richardson with the car, and the deputy shot and killed him.
Prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against Richardson after reviewing a State Law Enforcement Division investigation of the shooting.
Since the incident, Richardson said, he has seen doctors more than 30 times for nerve damage, a destroyed spinal disc and torn cartilage in his hip.
“I feel for him and his family,” Sheriff Jay Koon said. “It pulls at your heartstrings.”
Koon asked county council members to grant Richardson’s request to provide health insurance as if the former deputy was still working. Richardson wanted the coverage until he turned 65, when the federal Medicare program would pick up coverage.
The sheriff acknowledged the request put county leaders “in a tough spot.” But the help is warranted for “someone who was protecting our citizens,” he said.
Some council members said granting the request would have given Richardson a benefit that isn’t available for other South Carolina law enforcement officers hurt on duty.
“This is an unfortunate situation, no doubt, but I can’t ask our taxpayers to do something no one else is doing,” Councilwoman Erin Long Bergeson of Chapin said.
Providing coverage would cost $7,200 a year at first and would likely increase in the future, Richardson said. County officials, citing privacy concerns, would not confirm the cost.
According to agency rules, Richardson didn’t serve long enough to qualify for insurance through the state Public Employee Benefit Authority that oversees benefits for State Highway Patrol troopers and some local police and deputies.
Richardson, 40, isn’t old enough and his seven years as a deputy are insufficient under county rules to obtain low-cost retiree health coverage.
Some county leaders are sympathetic to his dilemma. But allowing Richardson to receive coverage would open the door to similar requests from other injured workers that would become highly expensive to fulfill, they said.
“It’s a no-win situation for everyone,” Councilman Darrell Hudson of Lexington said.
The county allows deputies to retire at 55 after 25 years of service, the last five of which must be consecutive. Health insurance is available through the county until age 65, when a retiree is eligible for Medicare coverage.
That policy was adopted in 2008 after county officials were warned that the previous requirements would lead to a $500 million bill for employee health insurance in 2038, County Administrator Joe Mergo said. Since then, all new deputies have been advised in writing of the restrictions, he said.
Richardson has looked at obtaining insurance personally, receiving what he says are estimates of a minimum of $1,000 a month. But plans have high deductibles and many exclusions in coverage, limiting their value for his family, he said.
His disability and retirement income of $36,000 a year is too high to receive some types of federal or state assistance that would provide medical insurance free or at low cost, he said.
The challenge Richardson faces in finding reasonably priced coverage for himself, his wife and three children is common for anyone who is disabled, said health care consultant Lynn Bailey of Columbia.
“Many people are left out in the cold” because insurers view disabilities as likely to lead to extra medical care that’s expensive, she said.
Richardson may be able to get coverage, but it likely will require legal challenges and help from health care advisers, Bailey said.
Although he completed an online college degree in psychology last fall while recovering, Richardson said his future is uncertain. More surgery is ahead, paid for through worker compensation aid, he said.
He stays busy checking whether health insurance might be available through Social Security or other sources. But obtaining it promises to take months, and he might not qualify, he said.
Meanwhile, Richardson massages the leg for pain relief that medicine doesn’t provide for nerve damage he said appears degenerative.
His wife, Amanda, is frantic at the lack of health insurance. “We’re living on a prayer,” she said.
She is looking for work that will provide insurance, after leaving a job as a dental office manager in Lexington to care for her husband and take him to medical appointments.
The incident that changed her husband’s life has damaged him emotionally as well as physically.
Richardson sometimes second-guesses his decision to enter a career in law enforcement 12 years ago.
“At some points, I question whether it was worth it,” he said.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483