Pensioner’s Health Care Taken, Has No Remedy Under ERISA

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Casey Patelski – Iowa

According to personal reports:

Casey Patelski was a dedicated employee of a leading aerospace manufacturer for 28 years. He helped to design spacecraft and directed U.S. astronauts at Mission Control in Houston. His future appeared secure when he retired in 1992, as he had been promised generous lifetime health benefits.

Six months later, even though he had been guaranteed it in writing, that promise was broken. His former company announced that it would no longer pay for non-union retirees’ health coverage, and Patelski lost his health care coverage. Betrayed, a wheelchair-confined Patelski now faces his future unsure, and frightened.

Because he had put faith in his employers’ promise of lifelong benefits, he and his wife now find themselves without a budget for major medical bills.

"It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, which I happen to be, to realize that I am going to have continuing medical costs," he says. "I am afraid that any medical emergency could financially bankrupt me and my family."

As it stands, ERISA is the only federal law pertaining to employee health plans and pension benefits. Unfortunately, it supersedes state insurance law and answers to almost no regulation. In addition, any claims against the company by Patelski are preempted by ERISA and would be removed from state to federal court. Once in federal court, Patelski would be unable to recover any damages.

"Because ERISA does not set standards for health benefits, employers are free to do whatever they want," former United States Senator Howard Metzenbaum, D- Ohio, said. "Despite years of promises, employers can put clauses in their health plans, literally overnight, breaking original promises and reserving the right to terminate benefits."

Casey Patelski is one of the growing numbers of retirees who are learning the terrifying truth that, as a result of ERISA, these promises are empty. Instead of beginning his golden years of retirement peacefully, he now faces the grim reality of having no health benefits to speak of.

Consumer Watchdog
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