Niagara Gazette


June 30, 2014

Seventy-one police, firefighter retirees suing City of Lockport over health benefits

Niagara Gazette —

LOCKPORT — Seventy-one retired police officers and firefighters are suing the city 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 of Lockport "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.

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