By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
Several retired Amsterdam firefighters are suing the city for an alleged breach of contract regarding their health insurance benefits.
A lawsuit was filed July 15 with the Montgomery County Clerk's office by 20 retired members of the Amsterdam Fire Department alleging they are owed reimbursement for Medicare payments, which the city is supposed to pay, as outlined in their contracts.
"These firefighters retired under contracts that provided that they would receive health insurance at no cost to them," said attorney Thomas Jordan, who is representing the group. "The city unilaterally changed the terms of the contracts that they retired under so we are trying to get the status quo reinstated."
Jordan added the lawsuit is not a class action suit. Each plaintiff, he said, is represented as an individual.
They include: Ronald Husted, David Swart, David Conrad, Michael Bower, Joseph Parillo, Anthony Duchessi, Lionel Gibbs, Frank Alibozek, Michael Kuczek, Samuel Greco, David Dabiere, Bernard Welch, Joseph Puglisi, Walter Martin, John Hoyt, Joseph Pozniak, Michael Purtell, Michael Mancini, John Wilary and Paul McNamara.
The suit names the city of Amsterdam and Mayor Ann Thane as defendants.
City attorney Gerard DeCusatis said he has not yet seen the lawsuit and therefore would not comment on it.
According to the suit, the city and Amsterdam Professional Firefighters Union Local 2825 have been parties to a number of three-year contracts since July 1, 2000, which defined the rights of the parties.
The firefighters, who are part of the union, claim they entered contracts between July 2000 and June 2006 that stated, "All employees hired prior to June 30, 2000, shall be entitled to health insurance coverage upon retirement at no cost to the employee."
All of the firefighters in the lawsuit were hired in the 1970s or 1980s and retired between 2000 and 2010.
The contract was later amended to include a definition of the above statement as well as set an amount for co-pays. The new contract stated: "The retired employee will not be required to pay any contribution toward his/her health insurance premium. Further, his/her co-pays shall be fixed at the amount in effect on the date of her/his retirement."
This language continued until 2005, when the city reportedly changed the terms of the contract without notifying the union or the members, setting maximum reimbursement amount for Medicare Part B at $66.60 per month, effective July 1, 2005, the lawsuit states.
The firefighters claim in the lawsuit that their rights are dictated by the contract they retired under and the city is required to reimburse them for their Medicare Part B premium payments.
The firefighters, eight of whom have become Medicare eligible, claim they have suffered financial injury in the amount of a deductible of $140 per year and an increased monthly payment to $37.40 since they became eligible.
The other half, who have not yet become Medicare eligible, state they retired expecting the city would provide them with health care coverage at no cost, including reimbursing amounts for Medicare Part B premiums and deductibles.
Since the city discontinued this practice, the firefighters expect they will be not be fully reimbursed and will "suffer financial injury due to their reliance on the past practice," the suit states.
They conclude that since the city has breached the contract, it is obligated to reimburse them for their Medicare Part B premium payments as well as compensate for any premium payments that were not reimbursed.
The firefighters are also asking the court to require the city to continue providing reimbursements for firefighters who have retired, or will retire, under any of the contracts, whether or not they have already become eligible for Medicare.
In addition to the reimbursements, the firefighters are asking for relief from attorney fees, costs and disbursements and other relief the court deems necessary.