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CSEA sues Niagara County over health insurance

LOCKPORT – Niagara County’s white-collar union has filed a lawsuit seeking repayment for health insurance provisions that it says the county unilaterally canceled five years ago, including cosmetic surgery coverage and prescription co-payment reimbursements.

The suit was filed Friday in State Supreme Court by five retirees who were members of the Civil Service Employees Association.

However, the suit says it’s a class action case that could affect anywhere from 240 to 500 retired CSEA members who left county government between 1983 and 2007.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Terry M. Sugrue of Buffalo, contends that the terms of the CSEA contracts in force when the workers retired assured them that their benefits would never be reduced for the rest of their lives.

The county then was providing retirees with traditional BlueCross BlueShield coverage, the most wide-ranging policy available to public employees.

County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said the county no longer offers that package to anyone, including retirees. The traditional plan set prescription co-pays at $1 for generic drugs and $5 for brand-name medicines, and treated elective cosmetic surgery as it would any other operation.

The suit says that on Dec. 9, 2010, the county gave the union notice that it would no longer allow claims for elective cosmetic surgery and would no longer reimburse for prescription co-pays under the plan’s major medical section.

Neither Glatz nor County Attorney Claude A. Joerg had any idea Monday how much a case such as this would cost the county if the union wins. Sugrue did not return calls seeking comment.

In Albany, CSEA spokesman Stephen A. Madarasz said the principle of the case is the same as one the Niagara Falls School District lost earlier this year.

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court ruled March 27 that the school district was not allowed to cut the benefits of 31 retired administrators.

The court ruled that as long as the contract language is clear, all members were entitled to the same health insurance coverage that was in effect in their union contract the day they retired.

In making that ruling, the court followed a 2013 Court of Appeals precedent in a case brought by retirees against the Newfane Central School District.

Madarasz said the case deals with a state law called the Moratorium Statute, which says retiree health care can’t be cut unless there is a corresponding cut to benefits of active employees.

In 2011, the Falls district increased retirees’ co-pays by $20 per prescription and $250 for each hospital admission, while imposing numerous other reductions in coverage. The March 27 court ruling put a stop to that.