Court: retired state employees must still pay health insurance

Mar 19, 2013

Illinois lawmakers looking to reduce the state's costs for employee retirement benefits have scored a victory in a central Illinois court.  

 A Sangamon County judge upheld a law that makes retired state employees pay a health care premium.Illinois had previously promised state employees free health care if they worked 20 years for the state.

  A group of retirees sued, saying the benefit was part of their pension.  Illinois' constitution says pension benefits cannot be diminished.The retirees' lawyer, Don Craven, says he still believes that's the case, and the retirees will appeal the decision. 

 "What it means for many of them is that, their decision to retire may not have been made if they'd known that the state was going to renege on the promises that it made."

 But the judge's ruling says it was foreseeable that group insurance plans would regularly change.   He says retiree health care benefits are not covered by the constitutional guarantee.The case may provide clues as to what lawmakers can do as they debate reducing state workers' pension benefits.

 Senate President John Cullerton says the decision supports his legal theory on pensions.  Cullerton's method would have employees choose, they can keep their current pension benefits but lose access to state-backed health care upon retirement.  Or they can keep access to the health care, but take a smaller pension.