Hi, thanks for submitting your question. My understanding of the situation from the WSJ is IBM plans to eliminate its Medicare supp plans and give retirees a stipend to purchase their own insurance
. There are 110,000 retirees it plans to do this to.
When the courts are called upon to determine whether post-retirement medical benefits have vested, they focus primarily on the plan documents and Summary Plan Descriptions. If these documents unambiguously answer the question, the inquiry usually ends there. If these documents are ambiguous or internally inconsistent, however, the courts will look to ‘‘extrinsic evidence’’ (evidence outside the documents) to determine whether the employer intended to vest the post-retirement medical benefits. Such evidence may take the form of letters, summaries, or brochures issued by company human resources personnel, and even oral statements made by management personnel that may have occurred many years ago. Although this contractual analysis appears straight-forward, it often is complicated by separate contractual agreements outside the plan documents, such as collective bargaining agreements or early retirement buyout agreements, and by the existence of multiple versions of the governing plan documents and SPDs issued over many years. In practice, the contractual analysis provides a framework for what is otherwise a fact-intensive inquiry involving more art than science.
I'm reasonably sure that there may be a class action
lawsuit against IBM in this instance and if there is any promise of unaltered lifetime benefits this will be exposed in that suit. It's impossible for me to tell you what rights you may have under the absent looking at all the plans, memos etc that you may have had through the years. The fact that you have come to rely on it may be a factor, but having an express document is far more powerful evidence. My advice to you at this time would be to seek out an attorney to pursue your rights in the matter and/or wait until you hear of a class action, there is a 6 year time frame generally in which you must bring a lawsuit.
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