Collective bargaining agreements covering public employees in Connecticut often provide for health insurance for retirees. In some cases, those contract provisions say retirees shall be covered by the same plans as active employees, but others say retirees will get coverage that is the same as, or comparable to, the plan in effect at the time they retired.

Given how quickly the world of health insurance has evolved recently, any knowledgeable employer would avoid committing to the “same” coverage for an indefinite period of time, but what is meant by the term “comparable?” What if the terms of the plan are the same, but the carrier is different so the network of participating providers or approved drugs is different? What if co-pays are lowered for preventive care, but are increased for some other medical services?

The latter scenario was presented to a panel of Appellate Court judges in a case brought by a group of retirees from the Town of Bloomfield. They rejected the plaintiffs’ claims, finding that the term “comparable” did not mean identical. While it was true some co-payment requirements had been increased, others (such as preventive care and routine eye examinations), were reduced to zero.

In a related development, a Superior Court judge recently rejected a request for an injunction brought by a group of police and fire retirees in Torrington when the municipality adopted an insurance plan with new deductible requirements. They claimed the change violated a promise they would not have to pay more for coverage than they did at the time of their retirement. Without deciding the merits of their claim, the judge said they were not entitled to an injunction because the change did not constitute “irreparable injury.” In other words, if they ultimately win their case, money damages will make them whole.