Retiree health care benefits end when a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between a company and a union expires, unless the CBA provides otherwise, the Supreme Court ruled Feb. 20.

The decision underscores the importance of giving careful thought to all language proposed and agreed to at the bargaining table, said David Pryzbylski, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis. Make sure the language in the CBA clearly expresses the parties' intent, he stated. Benefits documents should as well, labor relations attorneys say.

Ballard Spahr Partner Steven W. Suflas observed that retiree health care benefits are now rare and expensive and noted that the high cost for GM in 2004 contributed to the company spending more on health care per vehicle than on steel.

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