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Lockport settles health insurance lawsuit with police, fire retirees

LOCKPORT – The Lockport Common Council voted unanimously Wednesday to pay $170,000 to its police and firefighters’ unions to settle a lawsuit filed by 71 retired members of the two unions over reductions in their health insurance.

The settlement was worked out April 13 in the chambers of State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr., who last September refused the city’s motion to have the case dismissed. However, not until now had the Council appropriated the money to complete the deal.

“From all sides, it’s a fair settlement,” Deputy Corporation Counsel David E. Blackley said. “The liability for this was in the neighborhood of $375,000 to $380,000, so they came to the table on that.”

The police and fire retirees filed suit in late June 2014, claiming the city had violated a succession of union contracts by reducing the health benefits the officers said they had been promised. Contracts dating back to 1980 had promised the retirees 100 percent city-paid health coverage, except for some prescription drug co-payments.

In 2009, the city unilaterally shifted retirees from a traditional Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan into a health maintenance organization. The city then stopped reimbursing the retirees and their spouses for their $104-a-month Medicare Part B premiums. The city also gradually raised prescription co-payments, from the original $1 to $3, then to $5 and $10. It also changed the prescription drug list, dropping coverage on some medications that certain retirees depended upon.

Also, in June 2013, the city slashed the retirees’ annual dental allowance from $300 to $75; cut the vision care allowance from $100 to $75 a year; and imposed a 20 percent co-pay on durable medical goods.

The Council agreed to pay $85,000 next week and another $85,000 on March 1. Blackley said the unions will decide how the money is divided among the plaintiffs, Blackley said that’s up to the unions.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey was not present for Wednesday’s meeting, but she issued a statement mentioning that the changes occurred “during the prior administration,” meaning that of former Mayor Michael W. Tucker.

She wrote, “We thank the police and fire retirees for understanding the city’s financial plight and coming to a mutually agreeable settlement.”

Union attorney Hugh C. Carlin of Grove, Shuman, Brizdle & Gilfillan, did not return a call seeking comment.

The settlement was similar to one the Council approved last month for a lawsuit over changes in health insurance, filed by 25 Civil Service Employees Association retirees. The city will make two payments of $44,960 each to that union, one this month and the other in March.

Director of Finance Scott A. Schrader said the money for the payments will be drawn from savings in this year’s health insurance budget. “We’re performing a little better than budgeted,” he said.