Sarpy County to extend health insurance benefits to spouses of gay workers - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:10 pm
Sarpy County to extend health insurance benefits to spouses of gay workers

Sarpy County will extend health insurance benefits to spouses of gay employees who legally married in another state but live in Nebraska.

The Sarpy County Board voted 3-2 Tuesday to provide coverage to legally married same-sex spouses, regardless of their residency.

Effective Feb. 1, the coverage is through the county's health provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, which changed its definition of a spouse after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

For some Blue Cross clients, the policy change was automatic. But others, including governments, have the option to keep the old definition, which recognized only spouses who live in a state that legally allows the marriage.

Board members Don Kelly and Jim Warren, who both voted against extending coverage, questioned what the change would cost the county.

Human Resources Director Karen Buche estimated that 10 or fewer employees would take advantage of the benefits. That's a small percentage of the roughly 450 employees who participate in the county's insurance plan, she said.

Buche said the true fiscal impact wouldn't be realized, however, until open enrollment.

Said Warren, “We're being asked to approve a contract issue with no concept of what a budget impact may be.”

Kelly agreed, saying responsible people don't make decisions without knowing the cost.

Kelly and Warren also voiced concerns about the measure's constitutionality.

When asked by board member Tom Richards if the resolution was unconstitutional, Deputy County Attorney Bonnie Moore replied no. She said the state constitution is not so far reaching that it would invalidate a contract between Blue Cross Blue Shield and the county.

The county already extends benefits to same-sex couples if they reside in a state where the marriage is legal, such as Iowa. If it didn't extend coverage, Board Chairman Jim Thompson said Sarpy County would be telling employees to quit paying taxes in Nebraska and live in Iowa if they want insurance coverage.

The Sarpy County decision comes on the heels of Douglas County's decision last month to extend benefits to all same-sex spouses. The vast majority of Nebraska school districts, who are covered through Blue Cross, have extended their health insurance benefits just the same.

The City of Omaha has held off, arguing that such a change should be made through contract negotiations with employee unions. The City of Papillion argues that extending those benefits would violate Nebraska's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Contact the writer: Emily Nohr

emily.nohr@owh.com    |   402-444-1192    |  

Emily covers Papillion, La Vista, Gretna and Springfield, as well as metro-area roads.

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