WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Illinois Constitution Protects Retiree Health Insurance

Jul 3, 2014

The Illinois Supreme Court says the free health insurance enjoyed by state retirees is protected by the Illinois Constitution.

llinois used to pay the health insurance premiums for retirees with 20 years of service. But as of last year, those former workers had to chip in.

A group of retirees sued, saying that’s prohibited by the Illinois Constitution's guarantee of government pension benefits.

In a 6-1 ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with the retirees. Justice Charles Freeman wrote that the framers of the Illinois Constitution were mindful that pensions had been “made a political football.”

Illinois’ state finances are in bad shape, but Freeman wrote the state Constitution is "aimed at protecting the right to receive the promised retirement benefits, not the adequacy of the funding to pay for them.”

The opinion gives hope to opponents of the benefit-cutting pension law passed last year, which is being challenged in a separate case.

The government union AFSCME praised the decision.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general said she’ll continue to "vigorously defend” the pension law.