According to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory retirees who are suing to restore University of California health care coverage they are doing so because of fears about a future in which fewer survivors and a new and uncaring Laboratory manager leave them with higher costs and reduced medical benefits.

The retirees lost UC health care programs in 2008 after the University was removed as sole manager of the Laboratory. The retirees filed suit in 2010, claiming the University must live up to promises made repeatedly over the years to treat them as UC retirees in perpetuity. The suit has become a class action.

The organization is called the UC Livermore Retirees Group. Laboratory retirees are scattered geographically around the U.S., some may not be up to date about retiree issues. To explain the purpose of the lawsuit to those who don’t know how it might benefit them, the leadership of the group circulated an explanatory email last week.

“Some of you have asked why this (lawsuit) matters to you as things seem fine so far,” the email read. “Our concern all along has not been so much the near term effects on our insurance costs and availability since the contract change, but the long term effects.”

The status quo is not likely to continue, the email suggested. The lawsuit covers a class of about 4,500 retirees and their beneficiaries. The retirees themselves have an average age of about 73.

“We may expect our insurance costs to skyrocket in the future,” the email said. “There is no guarantee that the medical plan you now have will be available to you” under some hypothetical future contractor.

In contrast, it said, the University of California provides health care programs to some 200,000 employees and retirees, both young and old, and can be expected to continue doing so, the email said.

The retiree organization’s concerns about an uncaring future contractor were exacerbated by the U.S. Department of Energy’s recent decision not to extend the contract for operating LLNL’s sister laboratory in New Mexico, Los Alamos National Laboratory.

DOE declared itself dissatisfied with Los Alamos operations, especially in regard to health and safety management, and said it would put its contract up for competition after 2017. (See NAME OF ARTICLE on p. XXX for more on the Los Alamos contract.)

What is happening at Los Alamos could easily happen in Livermore, the retirees believe. The LLNL contract is substantially the same as the one for the Los Alamos lab. What if UC were no longer accepted by the government as a possible laboratory manager, or what if it simply tires of its role and leaves the partnership?

The limited liability company that runs LLNL, called Lawrence Livermore National Security, has “no resources other than a single, billion-dollar-plus contract to operate a single facility. Other than that, the (companies) are just rented offices and a few employees with computers and fax machines. Unlike UC, Lockheed Martin, or Bechtel, these are paper entities with no real resources.”

If UC disappears, some future contractor may not care about “providing…medical care to a population with whom it has no previous emotional or contractual relationship,” the retiree email said.

It is to avoid that possibility that the lawsuit aims to return the Livermore laboratory retirees and their beneficiaries to the UC system.

The suit is being heard in Superior Court in Oakland. It is contested by the University, but rulings to date have tended to favor the position of the retirees. Examples include conversion of the suit to a class action and an emphatically expressed judgment that UC clearly intended to provide health care to its employees in retirement.

The next phase of the lawsuit will be a trial now scheduled for June 24.