Blue Cross to offer benefits to spouses of gay workers in OPS, most other school districts -
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Blue Cross to offer benefits to spouses of gay workers in OPS, most other school districts

The insurance carrier for 246 Nebraska school districts — including the Omaha Public Schools — will make available health and dental coverage to legally married spouses of gay employees starting Jan. 1.

The change by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska stems from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June that struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“It's a Department of Labor policy we're following,” said Andy Williams, spokesman for the insurance company.

Greg Long, field representative for the Educators Health Alliance, said Blue Cross Blue Shield made the change without action by alliance officials.

The financial impact to districts would vary depending on whether the district offered spousal coverage and the number of spouses who enrolled, Long said.

The extension of benefits to same-sex spouses had “no impact” on next year's insurance premium, he said. The premium for 2014-15 will go up 2.3 percent, which he attributed to fees in the federal Affordable Care Act.

OPS sent postcards last week notifying employees of the opportunity to enroll same-sex spouses.

Kari Meisenbach, the district's lead benefit analyst, said Friday she did not know how many spouses would now be eligible or the financial impact.

The district provides single coverage for health and dental to most full-time employees at no cost. The district pays up to 60 percent of dependent coverage once employees reach a qualifying service level, usually three or four years, depending on their employee group, Meisenbach said.

In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The court ruled that federal benefits could not be denied to legally married same-sex couples.

Based on the ruling, the U.S. Department of Labor issued guidance for employee benefit plans.

The guidance indicated that under federal law, benefits could not be denied even in a state where same-sex marriage is not legal, which is the case in Nebraska.

But to receive those benefits, the same-sex couple must have been legally married in another state.

The IRS issued similar guidance.

Nearly all Nebraska school districts obtain health insurance through the Educators Health Alliance.

The alliance plan's insurance coverage with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska includes more than 70,000 education employees, early retirees and their dependents.

All districts except Millard, Wayne and York are covered through the alliance.

Angelo Passarelli, Millard's director of administrative affairs, said Friday he was not aware of officials in his district taking up the question of coverage for same-sex spouses.

The alliance alerted districts that on Jan. 1, Blue Cross Blue Shield policies insured in Nebraska will include in the definition of spouse any legally married same-sex individuals that reside in Nebraska or elsewhere.

Previously, same-sex spouses were only eligible for coverage under the alliance plan if they were legally married and resided in a state recognizing such marriages.

Employees will be able to add their newly eligible spouse during a special enrollment period through Jan. 31.

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