Health Highlights: Dec. 27, 2007

Thursday, December 27, 2007; 12:00 AM

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors ofHealthDay:

U.S. Ruling Allows Insurance Cutbacks for Retirees Over 65

U.S. employers can cut or eliminate altogether health benefits for retired people over age 65, the Equal Opportunity Commission ruled Wednesday.

The agency's decision permits the creation of two classes of retirees -- people younger than 65 who are entitled to more comprehensive benefits, and people 65 and older who can be afforded limited health benefits from their former employers or none at all,The New York Timesreported. At age 65, many retirees become eligible for Medicare.

Employer-sponsored health premiums have risen an average of 6.1 percent this year and a total of 78 percent since 2001, the newspaper reported, citing statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The commission said employers are not required by federal law to offer health benefits to either active or former employees. However, in issuing its edict, the commission noted, "The final rule is not intended to encourage employers to eliminate any retiree health benefits they may currently provide."

Nonetheless, the AARP and other organizations representing seniors condemned the decision. "This rule gives employers free rein to use age as a basis for reducing or eliminating health care benefits for retirees 65 and older, said AARP attorney Christopher Mackaronis, who said the ruling could affect as many as 10 million people.

In June, a U.S. Court of Appeals decision upheld the commission's right to establish this sort of exemption to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The AARP has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review that decision, theTimessaid.

In related news, a federal judge on Wednesday struck down a portion of a San Francisco program that provided health care benefits to some 82,000 uninsured residents, theAssociated Pressreported.

Employers cannot be forced to subsidize the city government's plan, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled. "By mandating employee health benefit structures and administration, those requirements interfere with preserving employer autonomy over whether and how to provide employee health coverage, and ensuring uniform national regulation of such coverage," White's decision said.

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