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Retirees' health-care benefits at risk, study warns
Date:8/18/2009

ed, most governments have set aside little or no money for retiree health-care coverage."

Courts have almost universally backed businesses in lawsuits over reduced or eliminated benefits, said Kaplan, a law professor and member of the National Academy of Social Insurance. Employee benefit plans typically include provisions that give employers the right to amend key terms even after workers have retired despite objections that such moves amount to breaking a promise with retirees.

Kaplan says early retirees face the greatest risk when benefits are scaled back because they are too young to qualify for Medicare, but old enough to face high premiums for private policies if they can get coverage at all.

"The peril for them is that they took a reduced pension to retire early and now they have this serious financial exposure for health care," he said. "A major health problem could mean economic ruin."

To plug the coverage gap, Congress should revisit extending Medicare eligibility to age 55, an idea first floated by the Clinton administration in 1998, according to the study, co-written by Nicholas J. Powers, an independent scholar with a law degree and doctorate in economics, and Jordan Zucker, now an associate with the law firm of DLA Piper in Chicago. Both studied under Kaplan at the U. of I. College of Law.

Kaplan says early retirees might be protected under health-care reform sought by the Obama administration that would cover the uninsured, but that proposal faces uncertain prospects.

Without change, the erosion of retiree health-care benefits could ultimately throw the U.S. job market out of balance, he said.

"This isn't just an issue for older people. If older workers do not retire, there may be fewer opportunities for young people entering the workforce," Kaplan said. "Our study examined every reported court decision dealing with this issue and found that the message to employees was pretty clear: Yo
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Contact: Jan Dennis
jdennis@illinois.edu
217-333-0568
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert

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