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October 16, 2017
City Retirees Suing Over Health Benefits 7/2/2014
Posted On: Jul 16, 2014

City Retirees Suing Over Health Benefits

Seventy-one former cops, firefighters want the 'city paid' benefits they were promised!!

By Rikki Cason rikki.cason@lockportjournal.com Lockport Union-Sun & Journal:  July 2, 2014The Lockport Union-Sun Journal Wed Jul 02, 2014, 03:00 AM EDT

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Seventy-one retired Lockport police officers and firefighters are suing the City of Lockport over changes in their medical benefits.

A lawsuit filed June 25 in state Supreme Court claims each of the 71 former employees retired under a collective bargaining agreement that promised them lifetime, city-paid retirement medical benefits — and since the city “unilaterally” made changes in its health plans, in 2009 and again in mid-2013, some of the costs have been shifted to them.

Under the police and fire labor agreements that were in place when the plaintiffs retired, the suit says the city promised to pay the full costs of retirees’ medical care for the rest of their lives; the retirees were to be subject only to varying but minimal co-payments on prescription drugs. 

The suit outlines numerous ways in which the city allegedly broke its promises to the retirees.

In 2009, the city changed its retiree medical coverage from traditional Blue Cross Blue Shield to a single HMO provider. At the time, the suit said, the city refused to pay Medicare B premiums for retirees 65 and older. Those retirees had to pick up the monthly premiums, $104 for a single plan and $208 for retiree and spouse coverage. 

Retirees were also entitled to an annual $300 dental care allowance and a $100 vision allowance, the suit said. On June 1, 2013, the allowances were reduced to $75 for dental care and $25 for vision.

Also effective in June 2013, the city imposed a co-pay on durable medical goods. In addition, it now requires retirees to pay 20 percent of the cost of items upfront, then get reimbursement from the city. The reimbursement program “leaves retirees without the use of funds, and ... causes retirees to forego purchasing of durable goods,” the suit said.

Retirees are further “damaged” by the restrictive formulary list that’s attached to the city-sponsored Medicare Part D plan for senior prescription coverage, the suit charges. In short, the formulary list does not include some drugs that have been prescribed to retirees and therefore Medicare will not pay for them.

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Additionally the city increased retirees’ prescription drug copays beyond levels outlined in various union contracts dating back to 1980 for firefighters and 1992 for police officers, the suit said. Depending on when the retired, the drug co-pay amount was $1, $3 or a $5/$10 tier.

”Many plaintiffs have been forced to advance substantial out-of-pocket co-pays at costs of several hundred dollars per month, placing a significant burden on their financial situation, a burden not contemplated or required under the (collective bargaining agreements),” the suit said.

The retirees also object to the city’s failure to fund “flex” accounts in timely fashion. Flex cards are to be funded around October, when the annual insurance enrollment period begins and this year they were not funded until February 2014, according to the suit.

The suit seeks a court ruling directing the city to restore retirees’ health benefits to the levels promised in the collective bargaining agreements in effect at the time of each retiree’s departure. It also seeks unspecified “damages” for retirees who incurred unexpected out-of-pocket costs for medical services and goods.

Deputy City Attorney Dave Blackley said the city is currently reviewing the documents filed and is in the evaluation stage. The next step for the city is to respond to the claims.

”We deny any of the allegations,” Blackley said. 

In a brief prepared statement Monday, Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey attributed the suit to decisions by prior city administration — she took office this past February.

Former mayor Michael Tucker’s administration moved in late 2009 to shift all city retirees into less expensive health insurance plans, after gaining consent from three of five city employee unions: Hickory Club, Lockport Managers Association and AFSCME.

In 2009, the city paid $1.5 million on traditional BCBS coverage for 152 retirees. Then-budget director Richard Mullaney estimated the city could cut retiree health spending by nearly half, by directing retirees to comparable but less costly BCBS plans.

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