Retirees group files objection to Kodak's plans eliminate benefits

By WILL ASTOR - 3/15/2012 3:28:52 PM

Former Eastman Kodak Co. workers have filed a formal objection to the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proposal to eliminate retiree’s health coverage, and have asked the Bankruptcy Court to let them form a committee.

Kodak last month sought permission to cancel health coverage for all individuals who signed on to its retiree health plan after Oct. 1 1991. A hearing on the request is slated for March 20. 

Kodak, which covers retirees in a special Medicare supplementary plan, maintains it has a legal right to cancel coverage for some 16,000 of its non-vested ex-employees without Bankruptcy Court approval, but asked for a Bankruptcy Court hearing to clarify the issue. If the proposal goes forward, the affected retirees’ coverage would end May 1.

In a motion filed Tuesday, EKRA Ltd., an association of Kodak retirees, asks the Bankruptcy Court in New York City to block Kodak from cancelling retiree health coverage or to at minimum delay cancellation until Kodak files and gains approval for a restructuring plan--eventualities that could be as much as year away.

“EKRA believes that Kodak’s motion to terminate the retiree health plan conflicts with the bankruptcy statute protections limiting the alteration of certain benefit plans during bankruptcy.  Most importantly, we believe a better outcome for both Kodak and retirees can be reached by addressing all retiree benefits together with retiree voices being heard through a…committee,” EKRA spokesman Bob Volpe said in a statement.

Retirees who lose Kodak coverage still would be covered by Medicare Part B, which pays 80 percent of costs, but could see their health insurance costs rise.

All would be eligible to individually sign up for Medigap plans to cover the 20 percent not covered by Part B. Some could be eligible for Medicare Advantage plans, some of which offer low-cost or even zero-premium coverage. Those taking prescription drugs would have to sign up for Medicare Part D drug coverage.   

For many, loss of the Kodak plan would be a hardship, while Kodak would realize a relatively scant financial benefit, EKRA lawyer Scott Williams, of Haskell, Slaughter, Young & Rediker LLC in Birmingham, Ala., maintained in the Tuesday motion.

Kodak’s “David v. Goliath” approach to its retirees argues for formation of a retiree committee, the attorney said.

In a letter to Bankruptcy Court Judge Allan Gropper, Carol Dubreuil, the 68-year-old wife of a 72-year-old Kodak retiree with Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy, pleads with the judge to stop Kodak from ending her husband’s coverage.

She and her husband moved to Rochester from New Jersey in 1974 so he could work at Kodak, Dubreuil writes. They previously had lost her husband’s life insurance coverage and could not afford to replace it after Kodak cancelled that retiree benefit. She fears a similar fate if their health coverage ends, leaving both unable to afford needed medications.        

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