Although it has received little coverage lately, a bombshell of a lawsuit inching its way through the superior court of Alaska has revealed the financial strain visited on state workers there and promises to have ramifications for public pensions across the country.
The Alaska Retirement Management Board, a state agency, filed the suit in 2007 against Mercer, the human resources consulting firm. The lawsuit says that Mercer’s mistakes hindered the ability of Alaska’s retirement system to meet its obligations to former public employees.
Mercer, the agency contends, made multiple errors as the state’s actuarial consultant when it estimated the amounts that two of the state’s retirement plans needed to set aside for health care and pension benefits. The agency seeks damages of $2.8 billion.
The error that Mercer covered up, according to the lawsuit, occurred in 2002 and involved a “per capita claims cost,” which represented the estimated expenses of providing health care to a retiree. Mercer used one assumption for retirees under age 65 and another, lower estimate for those over 65 because they could tap into Medicare benefits.
But the amount entered into Mercer’s computers for employees of pre-retirement age was $213 less than it should have been. The error understated the amount of liabilities owed by one of the Alaska funds by 10 percent. A Mercer actuary found the error before the 2002 valuations were to be presented to the Alaska plans and reported it, along with a colleague, to a supervisor. But after several discussions, the lawsuit says, the Mercer executives decided not to tell their client about the error.