KY County Can't Only Pay for Some Retiree Health Coverage

April 2, 2007 ( - The Lexington-Fayette (Kentucky) Urban County government has been ordered to pay for health benefits for all retirees - including those who had chosen to opt out of the plan years ago, a court has ruled.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals issued the ruling in a lengthy legal battle by three former firefighters who had bowed out of the county health plan when it did not include a premium payment, but tried to regain entry after the county began to pay the premiums in 1999.

Their request to rejoin the plan was denied and the three men, Norman W. Johnson, Charles V. Robinson and John L. Gumm, filed suit in 2000. The appellate decision overturned a 2004 holding by then-Circuit Judge Mary Noble who sided with government officials’ decision to keep the ex-firefighters out.

“(Noble) ruled that (county officials) could, by way of Ordinance No. 366-2000, constitutionally exclude those (rejoining) retirees,” the appellate panel wrote. “In doing so, (Noble) noted that entitlement to health care benefits is not a fundamental right. Therefore, (the county) needed only to show some rational basis for excluding the opt-out retirees.”

However the court could not find a legally permissible reason to sanction a system that pays health premiums for some retirees and not others.

“For the above reasons, we hold that Ordinance No. 366-2000 unconstitutionally discriminates between the opt out and continuous retirees because (the county) had no rational basis for making that distinction once it had extended health care benefits to all retirees,” Judge Michelle M. Keller wrote for the appellate court panel.

The appellate panel ruling is  here .