I was Approved for PERA Duty Disability Benefits; Can my Employer Contest My Eligibility for Health Care Continuation Benefits?
This is a question we get quite often from Minnesota police officers and firefighters because navigating PERA and health care benefits can be quite complex. When you are approved for PERA duty disability benefits under Minnesota Statute § 353.656, subd. 41, you are also entitled to continued health insurance coverage under Minnesota Statute § 299A.465. You remain responsible for your share of your health insurance premium and your employer remains responsible for its share. Even though you are no longer working as a police officer or firefighter, your health insurance provider still considers you an employee of the county or the city. Rest assured, if you had family coverage while employed as a firefighter or a police officer, you still have family coverage afterwards and this benefit lasts until you reach age 65. Although the criteria for receiving health care continuation benefits is arguably identical to the requirements to qualify for duty disability benefits, courts hold that employers do have standing to contest your eligibility for continued health insurance coverage because they have a financial stake in your benefit. Unfortunately, this can mean double litigation for some of our clients.
Once PERA grants you duty disability benefits, whether that be through an initial application or after a contested hearing in front of an administrative law judge, PERA then sends a letter to your employer notifying the employer of its obligation to provide continued health insurance under Minnesota Statute § 299A.465. Some employers will immediately accept responsibility and start paying for its share of your health insurance. However, some employers will instead petition the court for a contested case hearing, which means they are challenging your eligibility to receive health care continuation benefits under the law.
Once you receive duty disability benefits from PERA you will also have to “separate” or officially leave your position with your employer. You will have the option to continue on your health insurance plan through COBRA which means you will be picking up your employer’s share of the health care premium in addition to your own. This is expensive but by doing so we are anticipating and avoiding any potential arguments raised by employers to avoid paying for their share of the continued health care coverage under Minnesota Statute § 299A.465.
When employers challenge an employee’s eligibility to receive continued health insurance, we immediately schedule another hearing in front of an administrative law judge and demonstrate to the court that you are entitled to continued health insurance coverage for the same reasons under the same criteria that PERA found you eligible for duty disability benefits. In some cases clients choose to try to settle their case for a monetary award in exchange for waiving their right to collect continued health insurance coverage from their employer.
While not all cases are heavily litigated or extensively drawn out, At Meuser Law Office, P.A. we prepare for that possibility from the first day we represent you. When we represent you for your PERA duty disability and health care continuation benefits we prepare an extensive and involved initial application. We demonstrate to PERA and to your employer we are ready from the moment we file the initial application for a full contested hearing on any issue that might arise. Often times, this prevents further litigation from happening which saves you considerable time and money.
Health care continuation benefits under Minnesota Statute § 299A.465 are clearly an important and very valuable benefit and there are many factors to consider when filing. As attorneys experienced in PERA law as well as worker’s compensation we can anticipate issues and work to avoid extensive and drawn out litigation. In addition, we will coordinate and maximize your work comp benefits on top of any PERA benefits. Call Meuser Law Office, P.A. in Minneapolis at 952-345-2052 or email us for a free consultation. We will evaluate your case and determine to which benefits you are entitled under worker’s compensation, PERA, MSRS, and Minnesota Statute § 299A.465.