A group of four Maryland government retirees sued the state and Gov. Larry Hogan on behalf of fellow retirees seeking to stop Maryland from moving them from a state prescription drug plan to a much more expensive federal plan.

The four retirees asked Baltimore City Circuit Court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the state forcing them to enroll in the federal Medicare Part D plan when open enrollment starts Oct. 15.


They’re also seeking a trial in an effort to require the state to continue providing them with state-sponsored prescription drug coverage.

The move to the federal prescription drug plan is part of state pension reform passed in 2011, but it caught many retirees off guard. Many said they heard nothing about the change until they received letters from the state budget office last spring. They have flooded lawmakers’ phones and started a Facebook page lambasting the plan, which they say will send their medications costs skyrocketing.

Maryland government retirees are in an uproar over changes coming to their prescription drug coverage after receiving letters from the Hogan Administration that some say are politically charged.

“We are trying to figure out the best way to stop it so we can regroup and figure out how to help these seniors on fixed incomes facing costs they won’t be able to afford,” said attorney Deborah Holloway Hill, who is representing the retirees along with Breon Johnson in the suit filed late Monday.

Hill and Johnson requested that the suit be granted class-action status.

AFSCME, the largest union representing state employees, held a press conference Tuesday to criticize the prescription drug plan switch. Union members said those taking expensive drugs for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses are at most risk.

Patrick Moran, who leads the union, said Hogan could call a special session or issue an executive order to stop the switch, but has not.

“This is a troubling move,” Moran said. “If the governor really wanted to fix this, he could. There is a whole host of things he could do. He is executive of the state and has had almost four years to reconcile this.”

Hogan spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill said the administration could not comment of the litigation. However, she noted, Hogan and key General Assembly leadership put in place “several extraordinary measures to address the impact of the legislation that was passed in 2011.”

The state will help pay for a year of prescription costs for retirees on Medicare as their drug plan transitions from a state plan to a federal one.

They set aside $33 million to reimburse retirees for out-of-pocket drug costs exceeding $1,500, the out of pocket cap under the current state prescription plan, DeLeaver-Churchill said.

She said the issue “will be addressed at the very start of the next legislative session as emergency legislation, and our administration has agreed to work closely with the presiding officers on a long-term solution that will protect retirees with high out-of-pocket costs."

Those steps have done little to calm some retirees.

“That will be too late,” said Ken Fitch, a retired building manager who lives in Nottingham and is one of the four plaintiffs named in the court filing. “All that is a band-aid.”

Fitch, who started a Facebook page for retirees to express their grievances, takes several medications to treat diabetes, high blood pressure and other illnesses. He said his drug costs are expected to increase thousands of dollars under the new plan. He now pays $930 in co-payments each year for medications and said that will jump to $11,683.10 per year under Medicare Part D.

Some retirees have talked about selling their homes to pay for medications under the new plan, he said.


“It becomes a choice between your house and your life,” Fitch said.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Brian Frosh, who defends the state against all lawsuits, said the office does not comment on pending litigation. However, Raquel Coombs said the office has asked that the lawsuit be moved to federal court because Medicare is a federal program.

The retirees’ lawsuit argues that they are entitled to the prior drug coverage because it was promised to them as part of their employment. Many chose not to get other higher-paying jobs because of the future benefits. The employees also are vested in a retirement plan that includes these benefits and that the state is in essence breaking a contract with the employees.

Retirees will suffer “irreparable harm” if the drug plan is switched because of the costs, according to the suit.

“The state has forgotten that its employees and retirees are human beings,” the attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.

Mary Frye, a retired social worker who is also a named plaintiff in the lawsuit, said she worries most about the insulin her husband uses for diabetes not being covered.

“We worked for this,” Frye said. “We paid into this and now it is being taken away.”