Lawsuit claims change in health care plan violates signed contract
Eleven retirees filed a class action lawsuit today in Cumberland County Superior Court against their former employer, the University of Maine System. The lawsuit alleges that the University of Maine System violated the retirees’ contractual rights to group health insurance when it unilaterally, and secretly, approved elimination of that benefit earlier this year. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop implementation of the proposed change, and it seeks a declaratory judgment affirming the retirees’ contractual rights to group health insurance. The named Plaintiffs represent a class of over 2,900 retirees and retiree spouses and dependents.
“Filing this lawsuit was not the route we wanted to take but this was the route the University of Maine System’s Board of Trustees pushed us into. We have retirees, who under their new plans, can no longer afford the prescriptions they need to stay alive, and others who are making the tough choices to stop taking one medication so they can afford another at a cost of their own health. This change in plan violates the contract and the promise the University of Maine System made with its retirees, and we will now pursue our rights in the courts,” said Jim McClymer, Associate Professor of Physics and President of AFUM.*
The University of Maine System’s change in retiree health care plan eliminated their current group plan and forces retirees into the individual marketplace. Early indications are that retirees are finding plans are more expensive, with higher out-of-pocket costs and less coverage. In addition, under the new system, retirees are being asked to pay out-of-pocket for their medical expenses and then seek reimbursement through a computer or paper system, complicating their health care coverage even more. The health care plan change will impact existing and future retirees.
“Retirees tried to speak to the Board of Trustees-we tried to tell them this switch in insurance coverage was costing some thousands more. We tried to tell the Board of Trustees retirees would have to choose which medications to take because they couldn’t afford them with the new plans being offered. We tried to explain the extreme negative impacts of this health care change, but the Board of Trustees refused to follow the contract-so now we will let the courts decide,” added McClymer.
The MEA, on behalf of the local unions, AFUM, ACSUM and UMPSA*, have also filed grievances for each of the three employee groups it represents stating such changes to the health care system is a mandatory subject of bargaining, meaning UMS would have had to negotiate the change with the unions representing the employees prior to implementation. The grievances also state the change is in direct contrast to the existing union contract. Decisions on the grievances have yet to be made.
*AFUM-Associated Faculties of the University of Maine- the only faculty organization that has a contract with the University of Maine system
*ACSUM-Associated COLT Staff of the Universities of Maine, represents the hourly COLT (clerical, office, laboratory, technical) staff in the University of Maine System.
*UMPSA-Universities of Maine Professional Staff Association, representing professional staff who are not faculty