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News Briefs

Older Retirees Can Be Dropped From Insurance Plans

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission voted Thursday to allow employers to reduce or eliminate health benefits for retirees when they become eligible for Medicare at age 65.

The agency approved a final rule saying that such cuts do not violate the civil rights law banning age discrimination. The vote was 3-1, with Republicans lining up in favor of the rule and a Democrat opposing it.

Employers and some labor unions supported the change, saying it would help preserve coverage for early retirees. But AARP, which represents millions of Americans age 50 and older, strenuously objected.

The new rule creates a potentially explosive political issue, since it will create anxiety for many of the 12 million Medicare beneficiaries who also receive health benefits from their former employers.

“We are aware of the anxieties and misperceptions that have taken root,” said Cari M. Dominguez, chairwoman of the commission, which was deluged with letters from more than 50,000 AARP members opposing the rule.

Employer-sponsored health plans help retirees pay medical expenses not covered by Medicare. Those expenses could include co-payments and deductibles, the catastrophic costs of severe illness and the cost of preventive care and prescription drugs, beyond what Medicare might pay.

Senate Passes Bill Giving Crime Victims Rights During Cases

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to grant victims of federal crimes a new set of rights guaranteeing their participation in legal proceedings against the accused.

The legislation, long sought by victim advocacy groups, raced through the Senate on a 96-1 vote after its supporters earlier this week abandoned their efforts to enact the standards through a constitutional amendment.

Should the measure become law, victims will be entitled to be “reasonably heard” throughout the case against the accused. They must also be notified of public proceedings and if the offender is going to be released from custody.

“I can’t tell you how many victims who may have testified against their assailant live in dread of the fact that an assailant will be released, they won’t know it, they won’t be able to protect themselves and the assailant will come after them,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a co-author of the legislation.

Supporters of the legislation predicted that it will be passed by the House and enacted into law.

Up To 3,000 Killed Or Hurt In North Korean Rail Blast

The New York Times -- SEOUL, South Korea

Two trains loaded with fuel collided and exploded in a North Korean railroad station Thursday, killing or injuring an estimated 3,000 people, according to news reports from South Korea.

“We’ve obtained the information that there was a large explosion near Ryongchon Station,” near the Chinese border, a South Korea Defense Ministry official told the South Korean news agency Yonhap on Thursday.

The official asked to remain anonymous, a common practice in cases like this one in which South Korean government officials make efforts to avoid offending their secretive and militarily powerful neighbor.

“The station was destroyed as if hit by a bombardment and debris flew high into the sky,” Yonhap said, quoting unidentified Chinese sources.