Retired Cook County workers are entitled to county health care even if they later worked elsewhere.
An appellate court rejected a Cook County retirement board’s “last-employer” rule. The court’s decision allows retired county employees to keep their county health care even if they go on to another employer.
In an opinion released last Friday, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed a decision made by the Retirement Board of the County Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Cook County, which oversees the Cook County Pension Fund. The board’s decision had been upheld by Circuit Court Judge Kathleen M. Pantle.
Pantle’s May 2018 ruling denied former county employee Lori Levin the ability to purchase health care through the retirement board.
But Illinois Appellate Court Judge Sheldon Harris wrote that the board “exceeded its authority when it implemented the ‘last-employer’ rule. The rule is declared void and unenforceable.”
Levin worked with the county as an assistant state’s attorney in 1980 before leaving to lead the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority in 2003, a post she held for six years.
Levin requested health care benefits from the board in 2016, which was denied in June 2017 because of the “last-employer” rule. The board’s decision was upheld by the Circuit Court.
Clinton Krislov, whose firm represented Levin along with the Center for Open Government law clinic at Chicago-Kent College of Law, said the class action suit will likely mean others who were denied the ability to purchase health care under the “last-employer” rule will be able to.
He expects the ruling to especially help those who were hired by the county before April 1, 1986. Their county employment before that date does not count toward eligibility for the federal Medicare program, Krislov said.
Those people are faced with either having to buy into Medicare with substantial penalties or pay for expensive private coverage.
The county and the retirement board did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“Retiree health care is probably the most important expense most retirees have, and without health care coverage, people — senior people — have more than they can pay,” Krislov said. “Having access to coverage at a reasonable cost … is really good for them.”