Illinois Supreme Court hears suit over retiree health care

Published: Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 11:47 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO – Attorneys for retired state government workers told the Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday that a new law that could require retirees to pay more for health insurance should be overturned.

The State Journal-Register reports the court heard oral arguments and will rule on the case at a later date.

At issue is a law passed in 2012 that allows the state to collect premiums from retirees for their state-subsidized health care. Prior to that, state workers who retired with 20 or more years of service were entitled to premium-free health insurance.

Edward Kionka, a lawyer representing retired workers, argued Wednesday that health insurance – like pension benefits – is protected by the state constitution, which states benefits “shall not be diminished.”

“Do an Internet search for jobs with benefits,” Kionka said. “Everyone knows that means such things as health insurance. The term ‘benefits’ is much broader than pensions.”

Retirees also argue that any changes to health insurance premiums should be part of union contract negotiations.

But Assistant Attorney General Richard Huszagh, who is representing the state of Illinois, told the court there’s nothing in state law that establishes health insurance as a contractual right. He also said the retirees are asking the judge to “give the pension clause (of the state constitution) a new and expansive interpretation.”

Huszagh acknowledged that if the state wins its case, it could greatly increase retiree premiums in the future.

Retirees filed several lawsuits after the 2012 law was passed. A Sangamon County judge dismissed the cases, saying health insurance benefits aren’t protected by the constitution. Retirees and the state then agreed to appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

If the court sides with retirees, the case would go back to the circuit court for a full hearing.

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