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U same-sex health plan to begin Jan. 1

Marjorie Cowmeadow, associate dean of General College and University employee of 33 years, has been waiting for the University to enact same-sex domestic partner health care benefits.

Cowmeadow and Teresa Schneider, partners for 23 years, will receive these benefits starting Jan. 1 when the University will begin a new health insurance plan. Employees in same-sex domestic partnerships will receive the same medical benefits offered to married partners.

“It’s a work equality issue,” Cowmeadow said. “It means (the University is) not discriminating against employees.”

“With Teresa and I, there were periods of time where she was out of work and I could not cover her,” Cowmeadow said. “For the first time, we’re able to cover our partners.”

“I retire Jan. 2, 2002, and I feel like I can retire, having pulled this off,” Cowmeadow said. “If I didn’t have this I’d feel terrible leaving this place.”

In the past Ö

The University has tried to implement medical benefits for same-sex domestic partners since the Board of Regents passed a resolution in 1993 saying the institution is committed to providing equal benefits.

“This has been an issue that’s been under discussion quite a bit at the ‘U’ over the last number of years,” said Carol Carrier, vice president for human resources.

But the University used the state’s insurance plan – the State Employees Group Insurance Program.

Under the state’s plan, the University was limited in the medical benefits it could offer to same-sex couples.

“We were not allowed to include domestic partners and treat them the same way we do married spouses,” Carrier said.

A reimbursement program was instituted to provide some insurance coverage to registered same-sex domestic partners.

“There’s a process that people go through to register their same-sex domestic partner at the University, and that’s a process we’ve used for years,” Carrier said.

The University defines a domestic partnership as two individuals of the same gender who are in a committed relationship similar to a marriage for an indefinite amount of time.

Under the reimbursement program, employees in same-sex domestic partnerships could be reimbursed for premiums up to the level the University was providing for family coverage, Cowmeadow said.

“But you had to go out and get the policy,” Cowmeadow said. “And the key thing in going out and getting the policy is you had to have health insurance.”

Last June the Board of Regents voted to sever ties with SEGIP and proceed with a new self-insurance system.

“We knew that if we were going to go off and do a program on our own without the state, that having same-sex domestic partners insured would be a big priority for us,” Carrier said.

“The plan is self-insured,” said Fred Morrison, professor of law and chairman of the benefits advisory committee. “The University is acting as the insurance company for it.”

Four different carriers are available under the University’s new health care plan: HealthPartners, PreferredOne, Definity and a series of HMO clinics. The University’s physicians and Boynton health service are also available under all of the plans.

“As far as the ‘U’ is concerned this is the first time we’ve included (same-sex domestic partners) in our health care plan,” said Robert Fahnhorst, acting director for employee benefits.

“Now we have our own plan and can include those people in our definition of eligible dependents,” Fahnhorst said.

Eligible dependents are defined as those in a married partnership or in a registered same-sex domestic partnership. Health care will not be extended to non-registered same-sex domestic partners.

The people behind the policy

Cowmeadow and Schneider have been renovating their Victorian home since they bought it 15 years ago and have enjoyed the company of Duncan – a German Shepherd – for 13 of those years.

With a workshop in the basement, Schneider has herself on a five-year plan to finish their home’s renovations.

Time now seems to be on their side.

“I can quit a job I don’t like and go out on my own and not worry about health and dental insurance,” Schneider said.

“It’s huge for me and my family and other people,” Cowmeadow said. “It’s affirming. My university is finally treating me comparably and equally and providing me with the same benefits.”

“It has taken almost 10 years to actually getting the benefits implemented,” Cowmeadow said. “The University is finally becoming compliant with University policy.”

Anne Preller welcomes your comments at [email protected]

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