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Judge rules against retiree health benefits

March 20, 2013

Image of a health care professional with white lab coat, blue scrubs and stethoscopeA downstate judge ruled Tuesday that health care for retired state workers is not constitutionally guaranteed.

A long-standing benefit had allowed retirees with 20 or more years of service to retire with full health insurance coverage (for themselves, but not dependents) without paying premiums.

A series of lawsuits filed in Sangamon County sought to preserve that benefit, arguing that it was protected by a provision in the state constitution which states that pension benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.”

However, in a ruling Tuesday, Judge Steve Nardulli dismissed four lawsuits filed in an attempt to block imposition of the premiums. His ruling stated that health insurance benefits “are not guaranteed pension benefits protected by the Pension Protection Clause” of the Illinois Constitution.

Nardulli’s ruling is available online.

AFSCME Council 31 logoThe American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 had backed the lawsuits, contending the law would saddle state and university retirees with unaffordable premium increases.

“We continue to believe this law impairs the rights of men and women who retired after careers with state government or state universities to obtain health insurance coverage according to the terms in place when they retired,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer said in a statement.

The union will appeal the ruling, Bayer said, adding that the union will consult with the plaintiffs and other unions about options in the wake of the ruling.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, called the ruling “good news for the taxpayers and another step forward in our effort to restore fiscal stability to Illinois.”

Senate President John Cullerton, who wants to allow state workers to choose between keeping current pension benefits or maintaining access to state retiree health care insurance, said the ruling reinforces his position that health care access can be negotiated in exchange for pension reform.

Media coverage of the ruling: