CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - There is a dramatic development in the battle to regain healthcare for police and fire retirees.
From all over the state, members have now banded together and filed a class action lawsuit.
One of them is retired Willoughby Fire Chief Alan Zwegat, who says, “The reason I got involved was firefighters and police officers, they made a living out of helping people. Well, now I’m trying to help all of us.”
The fire gear in Zwegat’s study memorializes his 40 years in fire service; the last 11 years as chief in Willoughby. He retired in 2016 with a serious medical condition.
A single sentence in the lawsuit he is part of sums up the effect changes have made on 8,000 retirees saying, “Many retirees having to accept lesser coverage for greater premium costs or greater deductibles.”
He and wife Connie learned of planned changes in their coverage and so, like many others, they went to a meeting and were encouraged. That is, until they tried to get coverage, saying, “It didn’t play out the way it was portrayed. They made it seem like it was going to be equal. Yes.”
What was pitched as cheaper, comparable, and maybe better was more expensive and not comparable at all. Plus, Zwegat’s medical history disqualified him.
Zwegat says, “They forced us into going for our own coverage and because my wife and I sought other alternatives, we don’t even get the stipend.”
The stipend is a cash payment from the pension plan to retirees to offset premium costs.
It gets worse for the Zwegat family. If they travel outside of greater Cleveland, their HMO doesn’t cover them.
So for something as simple as going out of town to visit family or friends, they’ve got to buy travel insurance to be covered.
Alan was asked “It’s almost like the answer is don’t get sick?”
He said, “That’s a great point. Firefighters and police officers they sacrifice a lot of their safety and well being. It’s a young person’s job and when you need insurance most is when you get to the retirees.”