Sunday, November 07, 2004

Sure, I'm Eating Cat Food. But At Least Those Gays Can't Marry

Health benefits fade quickly for retirees

Things finally are looking up at Lucent Technologies Inc., the telecommunications gearmaker, where profits more than tripled in the most recent quarter.

Yet Lucent's retirees are not sharing in their company's improved fortunes. Thousands will see their health-care costs rise in January when the company's most recent round of cuts to retirees' medical benefits takes effect.

Robert Jerich, who worked for Lucent 37 years, has seen monthly premiums for him and his wife soar to $577 from $32 since he retired 3 1/2 years ago.

"Lucent has forgotten about its retirees as have many companies," said the 61-year-old suburban Countryside resident. "People that made companies what they are today have just been dismissed."

Lucent is among a growing number of large employers that continue to curtail retiree health coverage even though the economy is improving and their bottom lines are getting fatter.

Unless the benefits are guaranteed in a labor agreement, companies generally are not obligated legally to maintain these entitlements. Faced with surging medical costs and burgeoning retiree populations, many employers are trimming their contributions to existing retirees' health coverage and eliminating coverage entirely for future retirees. Medical plans that promise a defined contribution are going away in much the same fashion as defined-benefit pensions, experts say.

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