Despite the fact that in 2016 Connie Ridley, Director of Legislative Administration for the Tennessee General Assembly, specifically confirmed that State Representative Jeremy Durham was entitled to retain his health insurance benefits even if removed from the Legislature, the State of Tennessee subsequently terminated his health insurance access after he was expelled in a vote of the State House in Special Session.
Durham continues to contest what he and his lawyers have termed an “unlawful” termination of his vested benefits. The case is currently awaiting a ruling by the 6th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals on whether a dismissal of the case for “lack of standing” by the trial court was proper or not.
Unlike other former lawmakers who have been convicted of felonies and retained their health insurance benefits, Durham has never been charged with nor convicted of any crime. Nor was any complaint ever filed by any alleged “victim.” As noted by the Tennessean, former Sens. Ward Crutchfield, D-Chattanooga, and Roscoe Dixon, D-Memphis, were enrolled in the plan even after they were convicted of crimes related to the “Tennessee Waltz” bribery scandal. Crutchfield died in April, 2016.
State Representative Roger Kane (R-Knoxville), who joined with legislators who voted to expel Durham told the Tennessee Star that he was among those who were told that Durham would keep his vested benefits, such as health insurance access, prior to casting his vote.
“We were told before the vote that he would keep his health insurance like other former legislators,” Kane said, “and there was never any discussion of some distinction between voluntary or involuntary retirement that I was aware of. If I had been informed that he would be denied his health insurance as a result of the expulsion vote, it would have changed by vote from a yes to either a no or an abstain – which would have had the effect of a no vote.” Kane added that he didn’t know whether, or how many, other legislators would have voted differently if they had been told how the insurance issue was going to be handled.
Kane attempted to intervene with state officials after the vote to try to secure the insurance coverage for Durham, as had been represented, but was told that he had no ability to impact that decision once it had been made. Kane indicated that he did assist Durham and his wife in subsequently obtaining private insurance coverage, but at a higher cost than what they would have been entitled to under the state plan.
Durham has sued in Federal Court (Durham v. Larry Martin, et al.) to compel the State of Tennessee to reinstate his health insurance benefits. The State responded with a Motion to Dismiss his claim, asserting in part that Legislators are eligible to elect to retain their health./ insurance benefits upon “retirement” — which the State argues means “voluntary” withdrawal. However, the State has not denied legislators who are defeated in reelection bids, and therefore have their time in office “involuntarily terminated” by voters, from continuing to receive health insurance and retirement benefits.
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The District Court dismissed the case on the grounds that Durham lacked “standing”, and Durham has appealed. A ruling from the Court of Appeals is expected sometime in the next week or so.