Retired Belco workers in legal victory
More than 100 retired Belco workers have won a legal action against their former employer over an attempt to change their health insurance.
While the company sought to move retired staff from its Lighthouse Plan to alternate schemes in early 2015, Puisne Judge Stephen Hellman found that the offer presented to the retirees did not match what they had been promised on retirement.
“The offer does not fulfil the promise,” Mr Justice Hellman wrote. “It is very far from doing so. None of the other health insurance options offered by Belco would satisfy the promise as none of them would be provided to the plaintiffs free of charge.
“The plaintiffs seek an order that Belco shall continue to honour the terms of the promise. They shall have it.”
According to a Supreme Court judgment dated February 16, written by Mr Justice Hellman, Belco moved its employees from the “Lighthouse Plan” to a new “Lighthouse Preferred Provider Network (LPPN) Plan” in January of 2015.
At the same time, Belco sought to remove its retired employees from the Lighthouse Plan, which they had previously been allowed to continue on after retirement.
“Retired employees continued to enjoy the same benefits under the same policy, save for certain limited exceptions such as dental and vision care, and Belco paid their premiums in full,” Mr Hellman wrote. “Retired employees were able to include dependents in their cover, although they had to pay the dependents’ premiums.”
Regarding the proposed new scheme for retired staff, Mr Justice Hellman wrote: “Belco gave the retired employees various options. It offered to transfer them to the LPPN Plan or to another policy provided by Argus, the Signal Plan, which provided fewer benefits than the LPPN Plan but at a reduced cost.
“Cost was a factor in that Belco was only prepared to pay a maximum contribution of $525 per month towards the premiums and not the full amount. But in 2014 — the year of the most recent figures provided to the Court — the monthly premiums were $812.95 for the LPPN Plan and $756.61 for the Signal Plan.
“Moreover, Belco reserved the right to reduce the amount of its monthly premium contribution, whereas it was common ground that the amount of medical insurance premiums tends to increase.
“Only one of the options which Belco offered involved the guaranteed provision of free healthcare. This was an offer that the retired employees would receive, free of charge for so long as they remained ordinarily resident in Bermuda, the following medical coverage: Government FutureCare for those over 65 years of age, or Government HIP for those under 65 years of age, and the Moongate Health Gap Insurance Supplement.”
While Belco said the offer fulfilled its promise to provide free hospitalisation, home and office and major medical coverage for retired employees, the plaintiffs argued that what was promised was that they would receive the existing level of coverage free of charge for the rest of their and their dependents’ lives.
Noting the evidence before the court, Mr Justice Hellman found in favour of the plaintiffs, writing that in exit interviews the retirees had been made a “clear and unambiguous” promise that they would retain the same level of coverage that they enjoyed while working.
“It was part of an overall contractual package — whether as part of the contract of employment or alternatively a separate contract — pursuant to which the plaintiffs had rendered loyal service, in some cases for many years, for the benefit of the company,” he wrote.
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