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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Bill strips UA domestic partner’s benefits

Allison Mullally / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Allison Mullally / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill into law on Sept. 4 that redefined dependent status for state employees, stripping 170 domestic partners at the UA of their state health care benefits.

The bill, H.B. 2013, will prevent state-employed, same-sex domestic partners from claiming state benefits for their partners as well as unmarried heterosexual couples, children of domestic partners, full-time students over the age of 22 who are claimed as dependents and disabled adult dependents.

Liz Sawyer, spokeswoman for OUTReach, a UA staff group that supports domestic-partner benefits, said 40 of the employees who will lose state benefits are same-sex domestic partners and the remaining 130 are unmarried heterosexual couples.

In addition to the bill’s impact on domestic partners, as many as 500 university employees may lose coverage for family members who are dependents on their current state plan, Sawyer said.

Sawyer said she wasn’t surprised when Brewer signed the bill into law. She said, “”I have the luxury of being able to have my own insurance. My partner and I didn’t sign up for domestic partner benefits because we didn’t think it would last.””

Matt Heinz, Tucson Medical Center physician and Democratic state Representative for downtown and southeast Tucson, called the bill shortsighted and mean.

“”It just seems like the absolute wrong time to do this kind of change, it’s the wrong change to make,”” Heinz said. “”It’s extremely short-sighted, it hurts our public sector, it hurts our universities, it hurts us all across the board. We continue to walk backward. Actually, we’re kind of sprinting backwards.””

Eliminating funding for qualified domestic partners is going to hurt UA’s ability to recruit coveted researchers and academics, Heinz said.

“”(Qualified domestic partner health care coverage) got really high-quality people to come to the state, to come to the UA,”” said Heinz, who completed his residency at UA.

The state currently spends $625 million to cover state employees who were not included in the bill. According to the state’s Department of Administration, the bill will save $3 million in coverage costs that previously supported domestic partners who worked for the state.

Sen. Jonathan Paton, a Republican representing the Foothills, said the bill, which was part of the budget agreement, wasn’t about money. Social conservatives in his party wanted to get rid of domestic partner benefits, which were enacted by an executive order from former Gov. Janet Napolitano about a year ago.

“”I don’t think that the people who cared about it one way or the other were really looking at it in (financial) terms,”” Paton said. “”It was important for people on both ends of the spectrum because of moral reasons … We’re not talking about money, we’re talking something that is more of a value-based arrangement.””

Heinz said this is the worst possible time to create more uninsured Arizonans and the change is going to cost the state a lot of money as people who could have gone to their primary care physician will now end up in the emergency room as a last resort.

“”While we can’t see the costs of that right now, I assure you that in a year, in two years, in five years having all those people uninsured is going to cost a heck of a lot more than $2 million for the state,”” he said.

Sawyer agreed the state actually stands to lose money if those who are left uninsured due to the new bill apply for Arizona’s Medicaid plan, Arizona Healthcare Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).

“”If everyone who was signed up for Domestic Partner Benefits goes to AHCCCS it will cost $7.5 million,”” said Sawyer.

Sawyer said the university administration has so far been extremely supportive in helping those affected by the bill find alternative forms of coverage. President Robert Shelton recognizes the negative impact that this bill will have on the university’s image, she said.

In a memo sent to the all employee listserv, Shelton said, “”H.B. 2013 challenges our values of equity and inclusion and also appears to exclude vital health insurance coverage for any disabled dependents. Benefits parity is essential for a world-class university and we are resolved to achieve it.””

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