Attorney General: Honorable Nancy Wyman, State Comptroller, 2000-008 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

March 3, 2000

Honorable Nancy Wyman
State Comptroller
55 Elm Street
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Ms. Wyman:

You have asked this Office for an opinion regarding the administration of health insurance benefits for retired state employees receiving workers' compensation payments.1 In your request, you mention a 1984 Attorney General's opinion [Op. Atty. Gen. No. 84-93, July 24, 1984] that advised the Comptroller that retired state employees receiving workers' compensation payments "must have health insurance maintained at the level provided for active state employees." You also cite a Comptroller policy dated September 16, 1985, which is based on the Attorney General's opinion.

Specifically, you have asked the following questions:

1. Does the July 24, 1984, opinion of the Attorney General remain controlling?

2. If not, what is the current legal obligation owed to retirees receiving periodic workers' compensation payments insofar as their health insurance benefits are concerned?

3. How should the Comptroller's September 16, 1985, policy be revised in order to reflect this current obligation?

By a subsequent letter dated August 31, 1999, and a memo dated September 23, 1999, you have asked similar questions concerning group life insurance coverage for state employees receiving workers' compensation benefits. You ask specifically whether retirees receiving workers' compensation payments should be treated as all other state retirees and given the paid-up group life insurance policy that requires no contributions, or whether the life insurance coverage should be maintained at the higher level provided to active employees, including the requirement for an employee contribution. In the memo, you clarify that the broader question is "whether, in accordance with Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 31-284b, retired state employees collecting workers' compensation benefits are in a special status whereby active employee benefits must be maintained, along with the required employee contributions, regardless of whether the retiree benefit (such is the case with the health insurance and perhaps the life insurance) may be more advantageous."

Section 31-284b of the General Statutes states in pertinent part:

In order to maintain, as nearly as possible, the income of employees who suffer employment-related injuries, any employer who provides accident and health insurance or life insurance coverage for any employee . . . shall provide to the employee equivalent insurance coverage . . . while the employee is eligible to receive or is receiving compensation payments pursuant to this chapter . . . . 2,3

In case law decided after the 1984 opinion, the Compensation Review Board (CRB) of the Workers' Compensation Commission has consistently maintained that the "date of injury rule" applies to 31-284b. This rule provides that the rights and obligations of the employer and the employee under the Workers' Compensation Act are fixed and determined by the contractual and statutory provisions in effect at the time the employee was injured. See Iacomacci v. Town of Trumbull, 209 Conn. 219, 222 (1988). Thus, as was stated in the July 24, 1984, opinion from this office, the date of the employee's injury determines what law is applied. For almost all retired state employees, the applicable law would be 31-284b, or its predecessor, 31-51h. Both of these sections require essentially the same thing, i.e., that insurance coverage be maintained for employees receiving workers' compensation.

The date of injury rule requires that employees receiving or eligible to receive workers' compensation benefits must be provided with benefits "in the same amount and in the same manner as was provided [at the date of injury]." Distiso v. Town of Southington, 3073 CRB-6-95-6, November 13, 1996. See also Hodgkins v. Town of Southington, 3074 CRB-6-95-5, decided the same day. Both of these cases involved a situation whereby the employee receiving workers' compensation benefits received a greater benefit than current employees because of the fact that current employees were required to contribute to their insurance, whereas the litigating employees were not required to contribute at the time of the injuries. In O'Neill v. City of Danbury, 03510 CRB-07-97-01, March 31, 1998, the issue was whether the employer was required under 31-284b to provide life insurance coverage in effect at the time of the injury, or life insurance coverage comparable to that which a police officer of the same rank currently receives. The CRB held that the employee was only entitled to the coverage provided at the time of the injury, even though that coverage was considerably less than what he would have had, had he continued to work.

Because the Workers' Compensation Act is remedial in nature; Cummings v. Twin Tool Mfg., Inc., 29 Conn. App. 249, 256 (1992); the insurance coverage the retired worker must receive under the Workers' Compensation Act is the minimum that he or she is entitled to receive. Hansen v. Gordon, 221 Conn. 29, 32 (1992). Therefore, if the coverage provided to current ordinary retirees exceeds the coverage the Workers' Compensation retiree would receive under the date of injury rule, 31-284b would be satisfied by awarding the Workers' Compensation retiree the enhanced coverage currently provided to all other retirees.

Therefore, in response to your first two questions, the 1984 opinion, inasmuch as it states that insurance coverage for retirees receiving Workers' Compensation benefits must be maintained at the level provided to current active employees, is incorrect. Instead, the current legal obligation to retired employees receiving workers' compensation benefits is that they must receive benefits at least equal to what they were receiving when they were injured. If the benefits afforded normal retirees are greater than those available under the Workers' Compensation date of injury rule, providing those enhanced benefits to Workers' Compensation retirees would not violate Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-284b.

As to your third question, "how should the Comptroller's September 16, 1985 policy be revised in order to reflect this current obligation," if the Comptroller determined such action to be appropriate, the health insurance coverage for retirees receiving workers' compensation benefits could be transferred to the Retirement Division group bill, since the retirees' coverage satisfies the requirements of 31-284b.

The same analysis applies to life insurance coverage. If the normal retiree's coverage is greater than what the employee was receiving at the time of the injury, 31-284b would not be violated if the normal retiree's coverage was provided.

In summary, 31-284b requires that retirees receiving or eligible to receive workers' compensation benefits are entitled, at a minimum, to benefits equivalent to those provided to that employee at the time of the injury. If the coverage provided to current, normal retirees is better than that which would be provided to a Workers' Compensation retiree, based upon the coverage existing on the date of injury, providing the Workers' Compensation retiree with those enhanced benefits would not violate   31-284b.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

William J. McCullough
Assistant Attorney General

RB/WM


1 Retirement from state employment does not affect the eligibility of an employee to receive workers' compensation benefits. Injured employees continue to receive workers' compensation benefits as long as they are unable to work because of their work-related injury and remain eligible under Chapter 568. However, disability retirement benefits are subject to reduction for any time during which the retiree receives certain types of workers' compensation benefits. See, e.g., Conn. Gen. Stat. 5-170 and 5-192p.

2 Section 31-284b was declared unconstitutional in 1993 as applied to private employers because of federal preemption by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), but it is still applicable to governmental and church employers. See Civardi v. Norwich, 231 Conn. 287, 298 n.14 (1994), citing District of Columbia v. Greater Washington Board of Trade, 506 US 125 (1992) and Luis v. Frito-Lay, Inc., Supreme Court, Docket No. SC 14536 (order, April 27, 1993).

3 Note that under subsection (e) of 31-284b, the term "health insurance" may include coverage for a number of health care services, including dental care. Section 31-284b requires the same types of coverage that were provided at the time of the injury.


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