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Illinois Supreme Court ruling backs retirees on health benefits

11 months, 4 weeks ago from Associated Press

State Sen. John Sullivan says he agrees with ruling

The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday sided with retired state employees who argue that health insurance premiums are a protected retirement benefit.

The court's 6-to-1 ruling reverses a lower court decision allowing the state government to force retirees to pay for a portion of their own health care. The justices sent the case back to the lower court, where retirees can proceed with their challenge.

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. Under the new law, retirees had to cover part of the cost.

The case is seen as a possible indicator of how the court will rule on a wider challenge to a statewide pension overhaul approved last year.

Writing for the majority, Justice Charles Freeman said the plain language of the constitution supports the conclusion that health insurance premium subsidies are part of a contractual relationship with retirees that can't be diminished.

"Giving the language ... its plain and ordinary meaning, all of these benefits, including subsidized health care, must be considered to be benefits of membership in a pension or retirement system of the State and, therefore, within that provision's protections," Freeman wrote.

State Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville) did not support the legislation passed in 2012 because he didn't think it was constitutional. 

"This ruling reinforces my belief of the importance of a constitutional solution to properly address the state pension crisis. I voted against this law and other unconstitutional legislation that would strip retirees of benefits they have earned. 

The state made a commitment to its retirees - which it should honor. The recent attempts to renege on these promises are unconstitutional and so, when we return to Springfield, we will attempt to find a fair and constitutional solution," Sullivan said.

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.


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