Local retirees sue county over shift in healthcare plan

Rob Corpora, Cortland County Administrator. (Photo via Cortland County Legislative Facebook Page).

A large group of local retirees filed a lawsuit Monday in Cortland County Supreme Court.

The group is suing the county and County Administrator Rob Corpora, alleging the shift to a Medicare Advantage plan approved by the legislature in August deprives retired workers and their eligible dependents from receiving Medicare benefits promised by the county.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a similar and successful legal challenge in New York City, where a local judge barred the city from switching to a Medicare Advantage plan. The judge’s decision cited that former employees had been promised a Medicare plan, which is a public benefit, during their tenure working for the city.

County legislators approved the move to a private Medicare Advantage plan in late August, citing no annual deductible, no co-pay for a variety of services, low-cost prescription drugs, and vision and dental coverage — which are not included in traditional Medicare — as some of the perks of the new plan. 

Officials added the county would stand to save $800,000 next year by moving to an Advantage plan. Current workers and retirees will move to the new plan starting next January.

The plan would shift retirees’ insurance to a privatized plan, meaning they would have to pay out of pocket if a healthcare provider is out of network. Traditional Medicare does not pose a network, out-of-network dynamic, and is widely accepted across the country, the Medicare website states. 

This could mean retirees who receive sustained treatment at a local provider would have to pay out of pocket if their medical provider is out of network under the new plan. 

In the suit, former workers allege the move by the county is a “unlawful, arbitrary and capricious plan to forcibly deprive Cortland County Medicare-eligible, elderly, retired workers, veterans, and their insured dependents… of their Federal Medicare benefit and their promised county health insurance.”

They also allege county officials provided “extremely minimal and ineffective notice to the affected retirees and their dependents.”

Plaintiffs are seeking relief in the way of compensatory damages, restitution, disgorgement and any other relief permitted by law. 

A copy of the petition filed in county court can be found here.

Donna Johnson, a retired county administrative assistant who spoke at the legislature meeting, is a plaintiff in the suit.

“I cannot believe you're looking at an $800,000 savings which isn't even going to happen, and you are taking it off the back of these retirees that are here tonight,” Johnson said.

Charles Capanzano, a former director of the county’s mental health clinic and a plaintiff in the suit, spoke at the meeting Thursday. He said has initially reluctant to join the suit.

“I felt my integrity as a person who hired scores of people was in question. I had promised them some advantages,” he said. “I was able to attract people from the private sector. I myself was offered a more remunerative job… but I felt that my health care benefits and retirement benefits, my family, my house, my community, would be important to stay and to be a loyal, hard working citizen and public servant.”

Capanzano asked legislators to “do the right thing.”

“Do the right thing. Do the fair thing. Abide by agreements,” he said. “I've got a look at some people that I hired in the past. I feel sheepish. I lied to them. I am sorry.”

County legislature clerk Savannah Hempstead said the county declined to comment on pending litigation.