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Lawsuit filed over AIDS benefits Union sued for lowering limits


ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In what is apparently the first lawsuit of its kind in the nation, the University of Minnesota and the estate of a man who died of AIDS complications are suing his union because its health insurance plan did not pay full benefits for him.

The impact of the lawsuit could go far beyond the AIDS community because it is being filed under the new wide-ranging Americans With Disabilities Act, says Gayle Dixon, legal program coordinator for the Minnesota AIDS Project.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, contends the union's health plan violates the act because it limits coverage in AIDS cases to $50,000 while it pays up to $500,000 for other illnesses. The federal law, which prohibits discrimination by employers against people with disabilities, considers AIDS a disability.

"Across the country, people are going to find out that these types of caps are illegal under the Americans With Disabilities Act," Gayle Dixon says. "It also means that employers will be on notice that they cannot cap specific diseases."

"It's the first in the country and we're so proud," she said.

The AIDS patient, Mark Kadinger, was a member of Local 110 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers when he died on Nov. 20 at 34.

Until the anti-discrimination act was implemented last July 26, employers with self-insured health plans could legally cap AIDS benefits because federal rules exempted them from state regulation. The IBEW health plan fell under that exemption.

But the new act will require the court to determine whether capping health benefits constitutes discrimination, says Keith Helleland, a Minneapolis lawyer who is representing the university's hospital and clinic and Mr. Kadinger's estate.

Mr. Helleland says medical care for AIDS patients averages $50,000 to $100,000, while bone-marrow transplants cost more than $100,000 and care for heart attack patients averages about $65,000.

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