FROM READERS: Mother argues same-sex benefits would save tax money

Thursday, April 11, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:59 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 11, 2013

Jennifer Sprague is a mom of triplets who are nearly 1 year old. She lives in Columbia with her wife and children. She wrote this essay a year ago when she was pregnant with her children. She is sharing this essay now because she recently realized that the University Hospital, while requiring its employees to be non-discriminatory, still does not offer same-sex benefits.

Let me tell you a little about myself.  I am a 41-year-old white woman.  I got married in Canada, legally, not that the State of Missouri cares or accepts it.  My wife has been working at MU for 16 years.  I grew up on the East Coast, in the Nation’s Capitol. I grew up in a single parent household. I started working when I was 12 years old.  Before 2009, I have only been unemployed for 3 months between the ages of 12 and 39.  I was the first in my family to go to college on time.  I graduated from one of the Seven Sisters. 

I learned very early that working hard makes the money, but working smart makes even more money.  Working hard and smart is pure gold.  But that lesson has been tempered by another lesson: if you are not happy or fulfilled, no job is worth the money.  I have walked away from several money-making ventures and jobs because of not being happy.  I am not afraid of being poor.  These experiences have made me somewhat miserly, and if not miserly, certainly frugal and spend-thrift. 

As you may imagine, I have also had several jobs, vastly different in nature and levels.  I have worked in transportation, food service, retail, corrections, healthcare, hospitality, construction, farming, interior design, child welfare, and animal welfare.  I have been an entry level lackey, a team leader, shift supervisor, opener, closer, customer service manager, location manager, project manager, and owner.  I took on jobs that piqued my interest or I thought would be ‘cool’.  In early 2009, I was working in the housing industry and I saw the economic writing on the wall.  I did some soul searching and decided I needed to go back to school. 

At this point in my life I was COMPLETELY debt free.  I applied and got accepted to an accelerated program at MU.  I had to take out loans, three student loans and three personal loans.  It is worth noting that if same-sex benefits were offered, I only would have had the three student loans with their much cheaper interest rate.  In late 2009 I was laid off.  For the first time in my life, I collected unemployment.  After all, I have paid into unemployment for 27 years already.  I could not find a job.  My best offer?  Work 8 hours as a manager for $7.50 an hour, but be on-call from 5AM to 9PM.  $7.50 is less than 50% of what I had been making and only .25 cents more than minimum wage.  Unemployment considers a job offer unsuitable if you are offered less than 80% of what you were making at your previous job.  I collected unemployment for the maximum allowable time.  Now that the unemployment has run out, I am no longer considered in the statistic of the unemployment rate, even though I am still unemployed. 

Incidentally, I only have one kidney, so I paid COBRA to keep insurance.  The cost: $135 per month, about 2/3rds of one of my unemployment checks.  But that ran out too.  So I got the Aetna Student Health plan through the University.  It ends in August.  In my opinion it is one of the worst plans I have ever had.  It covers acute illnesses but not check-ups or non-acute problems. It cost me about $2400.00 for one year of coverage, almost twice the amount of COBRA.  I maxed out my credit card and am carrying a balance on it for the second time in my life.  It is worth noting that if the University offered same sex benefits I could have been added onto my wife’s insurance plan for less money and better coverage. 

During this jobless turmoil, I decided it was finally time to have a child.  At 41, I am the youngest in my family, including aunts, uncles and cousins, and no one else has had children.  I am the end of the line.  So I cashed out my IRA.  I was lucky; I just did insemination, so it wasn’t that expensive.  I was given a mixed blessing: triplets (OMG).  I was going to wait until after my accelerated program to get pregnant but my doctor brought up a very valid point:  What if I waited till after school and then never got pregnant, it would be a monumental life’s regret.  So I went ahead with it.  There are a few things that make a pregnancy ‘high-risk’, maternal age of 35 or greater, a multiple gestation, and a health history that includes a missing organ.  For these very reasons, I have to see a specialist in high-risk pregnancies.  I go every 2 weeks to the doctor, then after 24 weeks, I go every week.  Aetna pays some, then Medicaid pays the rest.  I believe a normal singleton pregnant woman sees their OB once a month.  It is also very likely I may end up on bed rest and will develop preeclampsia. Due to the fact that my waist is so huge, and I may end up on bed rest, I delayed my program by one class for one semester.  So as a result of my own decisions and some things not under my control, we are now in a pretty tight money situation. 

Since I cannot get help through same-sex benefits that should be fairly, ethically, and non-discriminately offered, I went down and applied to WIC, Medicaid, and DHHS for assistance, paid for by your state and federal taxes.  Since the state of Missouri does not recognize my marriage they think I am poor, jobless, and woefully under-insured.  Since I have 3 on the way, I get a larger benefit than most.  Part of me feels like a total leech on the system.  However, a little voice in my head also says, for 27 years I faithfully paid in to the system and if they would just recognize my marriage I would not have had to spend $30,000 this past year.  I should inform you a little about triplets, they are usually born pretty early.  If they come too early or too small all three could end up in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).  One in the NICU is VERY expensive.  The average routine baby delivery costs Medicaid $2,500, according to state records; the average NICU stay costs $45,000, according to an article in the New York Times.  Now think about 3 in the NICU.  You don’t get a price break on triplets; it is not like buying in bulk. After August, Medicaid will be footing that entire bill.  Premature babies, just by the very fact that they are premature, face a lifetime of increased risk for chronic and acute diseases.  Medicaid will pay for that too. 

Let me make this perfectly clear for you:  If we could have had same-sex partner benefits, then we would be limping along, paying our bills, maybe late but nonetheless contributing.  Since we do not get same-sex benefits your tax dollars will be paying for our children.  The University is a huge employer around the state, for that reason, I am certain we are not an isolated case.  And that is how the University of Missouri, by not offering same-sex partner benefits, costs you money. 

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising Editor Joy Mayer.

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