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City health plan spurs worker petition

Some workers oppose benefits for domestic partners

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2003

Some city employees surprised by a new policy allowing domestic partners to receive city health insurance benefits are backing a petition opposing the rule.

The employees said they were blindsided by the domestic partner clause when they received health insurance enrollment forms two weeks ago.

"We are married folks with man and woman, and we are not willing to put our names on it (domestic partner health insurance form)," said Marine Engineers Beneficial Association Shop Steward Lawrence Love.

The new policy provides coverage for unmarried same- and opposite-sex couples who have lived together in a spouse-like relationship for at least a year. City Manager Rod Swope approved the benefits based on a recommendation by the city's Health Benefits Committee.

Meanwhile, Love is leading the effort against domestic partner coverage by circulating a petition to city-employed union members.

The petition says union members "object to the verbiage of the marriage/domestic partner form" of the new health insurance enrollment. About 20 of 250 city MEBA members have signed the petition.

The city, which is self-insured, is not required to notify employees ahead of time about health care policy decisions, said Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce.

Moreover, the city has a set of standards for domestic partners, for which it may require proof at any time, Pierce said. The standards say the partners must live together for the previous 12 months. Love argues domestic partners should be required to provide proof.

Some employees fear that domestic partner coverage will increase the cost of city health care.

The coverage will have no impact on health care costs because only a small number of domestic partners are expected to enroll in the city's health care plan, said Pierce and city Risk Management Officer Tim Allen.

The average number of domestic partners in the United States receiving health care coverage is about 2 percent, according to city officials' research, Pierce said. Having more people with coverage better absorbs insurance costs if large claims are filed, she said.

Love, a married Juneau Airport maintenance worker, said unmarried domestic partners should not be entitled to health care benefits paid for by city taxpayers. He and other city employees said the city did not reveal the domestic partner clause during recent labor contract negotiations.

"How you spend city and borough money and not let anyone know about it doesn't seem very democratic," said Juneau Airport Building and Maintenance Supervisor Greg Jerue. Jerue is a non-union city employee who signed Love's petition.

MEBA negotiates only over the city's contribution to health care coverage.

MEBA Union Representative Ben Goldrich said the city was remiss in not notifying union members about the changes in health care coverage for domestic partners.

"I think the City and Borough of Juneau could have done a better job of keeping employees and the union informed," Goldrich said. "We reached an (contract) agreement in August and didn't learn about domestic partners until two weeks ago."

Goldrich, who favors coverage for domestic partners, suggested the city's lack of notification was not surreptitious. Employees must sign application forms by Dec. 1 to be eligible for coverage. If an employee does not sign a form, only the employee would receive coverage under the city's economy plan, Goldrich said.

The city also offers standard and premium plans. The city contribution for any of three plans is $700 a month. An employee has no contribution under the economy plan; biweekly contributions are required under the standard and premium plans because they offer more coverage.

After some employees complained to the city, officials placed a question and answer form, "Frequently Asked Questions 2004 Employee Benefits Plan," on the city's Web site, www.juneau.org.

Love said he would not sign the health insurance forms if they include the words "domestic partner." Upon request, city officials will offer separate paperwork for married employees and those with domestic partners.

• Tara Sidor can be reached at tara.sidor@juneauempire.com.



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