Lab Retirees sign contract for legal action

By The Independent 5/19/10

            The UC Livermore Lab Retiree Group has signed a contract with attorneys to begin legal action against the University of California to try to regain membership in its health plans.

            The attorneys will draft a formal complaint to be filed in court in the next few weeks, according to Joe Requa, founder of the group.

            The contract itself is a confidential attorney-client document, so it will not be made public, Requa said.  Details of the complaint will also not be made public prior to the filing in order to protect the integrity of the case, Requa said.

            The University of California declined to comment on the development.

            Lawrence Livermore Lab employees and retirees had UC group health coverage under a succession of contracts that began in 1952 and ended at the beginning of 2008, when a for-profit contractor took over Laboratory management from University of California .  The new contract specified benefits “substantially equivalent” to UC’s group plans, but the contract wording was changed a year later under circumstances that have never been explained to retirees.

            It is this change that retirees have objected to, particularly because it appears to abandon individual retirees to fend for themselves in a patchwork of plans and reimbursement programs.  Retirees share stories about former colleagues who have been unable to get service from the health consulting firms that now separate retirees from the Laboratory and University that once took an interest in their welfare.

            A common topic at monthly retiree luncheons is a report on how much longer it will take for Bank of America to straighten out the balky reimbursement program that was supposed to be fully operational for Kaiser members at the start of 2010.  At a recent meeting, one retiree wondered which would achieve success first -- the Bank of America program or controlled fusion, the always-in-the-future nuclear energy research effort.

            Ironically, while the Retiree Group seeks reinstatement in University health programs, UC is so concerned about rising health care costs that it has formed a task force to investigate options for cutting expenses and raising revenues at a time of extreme financial pressure.   It is not clear how or whether the University will be able to afford top-of-the-line health programs for the indefinite future. 

            The Retiree Group legal effort has been building for many months, even while its leaders expressed their wish to reach accommodation out of court.  Meetings with University Regents, managers and lawyers did not produce the result they hoped for, nor did interactions with congressional representatives or staff. 

            Fundraising efforts enabled the group to interest experienced attorneys in taking their case – not just that the case had merit, but that the Retiree Group had the resources to see it through.  The target fundraising goal was $150,000, which the group achieved several weeks ago.

            Requa made a $50,000 down payment Monday to get the group’s attorneys started.  He was unable to give an exact schedule for court proceedings to begin but supposed they would start in the next several weeks.