The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition that could have a big impact on employers' healthcare obligations to retired union employees.

The petitioners, M&G Polymers USA, want the court to overturn a decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that said an employer must pay 100 percent of retiree healthcare costs indefinitely. M&G Polymers is claiming the Sixth Circuit's decision conflicts with the majority of court rulings on similar claims across the country.

The issue seems to be one of contractual sloppiness, willful or otherwise. The Sixth Circuit ruled that the absence of specific language in M&G's collective bargaining agreement regarding how long retirees are entitled to healthcare benefits establishes the "inference" that the retirees are vested for life. Basically, said the Sixth Circuit, if it is not contractually established that the benefits can be terminated, they can't be.

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Nick Thornton

Nick Thornton is a financial writer covering retirement and health care issues for BenefitsPRO and ALM Media. He greatly enjoys learning from the vast minds in the legal, academic, advisory and money management communities when covering the retirement space. He's also written on international marketing trends, financial institution risk management, defense and energy issues, the restaurant industry in New York City, surfing, cigars, rum, travel, and fishing. When not writing, he's pushing into some land or water.