Douglas County owes $1 million to dozens of retired county employees who had their health premium subsidies reduced, a judge ruled this week.
Two retired deputies sued the county in 2009 after the County Board scaled back the premium subsidies that are paid to retirees until they become eligible for Medicare. The case was later expanded to include 252 employees under 65 who retired before 2010, when the new rates started.
In March, Douglas County District Court Judge Gary B. Randall ruled for the retirees, who argued that the county had broken its promise to maintain their health benefits at the same rate enjoyed by active employees.
Tuesday's order set the damages at just over $1 million — the difference in subsidy rates for three years' worth of premium payments — plus $178,000 in attorney's fees. Of the class certified by the court, 231 are entitled to reimbursement, said Joel Bacon, the Lincoln attorney who represented the retirees.
The county has a 30-day window to appeal the decision. Deputy County Attorney Bernie Monbouquette said the board will meet in executive session after its July 30 meeting to decide whether to appeal.
The damages would be paid out of the employee benefit reserve fund, which had a balance of more than $11 million at the end of 2012, county finance director Joe Lorenz said.
But until the appeal is decided, the county will not pay them, Monbouquette said. It will, however, comply with Randall's injunction prohibiting the county from billing the higher rate to the retirees who participated in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit included employees covered by three bargaining units, each of which has a different premium rate, as well as non-union workers. For example, the county paid 93 percent of a single-coverage plan for a retired employee represented by the Fraternal Order of Police. To save money, the board had reduced premium supports to 75 percent.
That translated to an additional $83.42 a month paid by FOP retirees — more if the employee was on a family plan, according to the lawsuit.