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London Free Press Business Section:


Retirees to sue over benefits

A London couple will join 60,000 retired civil servants to try to recover drug benefits.
JONATHAN SHER, Free Press Reporter   2004-01-14 03:49:41  

A London couple who worked as pharmacists for the Ontario government will join 60,000 other retired civil servants in a class-action lawsuit to recover drug benefits cut by the province. The lawsuit, certified this month by an Ontario court, seeks to recover benefits worth about $10 million a year for retirees like Glenda and Carlton Palmer.

Both Palmers worked as pharmacists for Ontario's drug benefits program before their retirement.

"Isn't that an irony?" Glenda Palmer said yesterday.

The suit alleges the province reduced dental, hospital and health benefits in 2002 despite having already promised those benefits to its employees.

The biggest cost for most retirees will be for prescription and over-the-counter medicine, said London lawyer Charles Wright, whose firm, Siskind, Cromarty, Ivey and Dowler, has played a prominent role in several class-action suits.

The province eliminated coverage for over-the-counter medication and increased the per-prescription deductible.

Those changes alone will cost the Palmers about $2,000 a year, Glenda Palmer said.

Glenda Palmer switched mid-career from the private sector to a job with the government for one reason -- her husband is 29 years older and she wanted to tap into what was then a superior benefits plan for government retirees.

But 14 years of planning went for naught when the government reduced benefits just as she retired.

"If I had known I would have worked until age 60," she said.

"A promise was made to retirees from the Ontario government that they would have certain benefits throughout their retirement and that promise has been breached by the government," said Michael Wright, a lawyer for former Health Ministry employee Barbara Kranjcec of Mississauga.

If the reductions aren't rolled back, benefits could be further eroded in the future, Charles Wright said.

Ciaran Ganley, a spokesperson for the Management Board Secretariat, the ministry that manages employee contracts, said little yesterday about the certification, when a judge decides potential plaintiffs share enough in common it makes sense to join them.

But Ganley did say the certification in Toronto by an Ontario Superior Court justice didn't reflect on the merits of the claim.

That's not true, according to Charles Wright. The government asked the court to dismiss the claim as baseless, but the court was not at all persuaded by the request.

Those affected by the claim will be notified, Charles Wright said.

The suit represents all retired government employees who were receiving coverage under Ontario's supplemental health and hospital insurance, and dental and life insurance plan as of June 1, 2002, when the changes were made.

While the changes increased coverage for hospital stays, hearing aids and other specialized health services, that doesn't offset the negative effect of the added deductible charges, Michael Wright said.

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