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Columbia Public Schools offer benefits to domestic partners

Thursday, November 21, 2013 | 6:33 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — For the first time, Columbia Public Schools is offering health care benefits to the domestic partners of employees and retirees.

Linda Quinley, the district's chief financial officer and chairwoman of the Employee Benefits Committee, said employees will have coverage starting Jan. 1, when they have to make their first payment toward their health care plan. Enrollment closed Saturday.

The district employs 2,400 people in 36 buildings. Although not everyone qualifies,  as of Wednesday, 2,200 were enrolled for health insurance.

Quinley said Thursday that she will not know how many people have requested health care for domestic partner benefits until all the requests have been processed.

"At this point, it doesn’t look like it will be many," she said.

The district spends an average of $17 million annually on claims, Quinley said.

Columbia Public Schools isn't the first major city employer to offer domestic partner benefits. Quinley said she looked at Boone Hospital Center's benefits policy when rewriting the district's policy. The hospital has offered benefits to domestic partners since 2005.

The city of Columbia followed suit in 2007, said Carol Wilson, city benefits manager. And in June, the University of Missouri System Board of Curators approved same-sex domestic partner benefits for university employees. 

Sixteen percent of Missouri residents through age 64 are uninsured, according to an Oct. 2 report gathered by the Missouri Hospital Association and used by the district's Employee Benefits Committee. Nearly three out of four of those uninsured are in a working family.

Comparing old, new policies

Quinley said the move will not cost those already in the system more money. All dependents receive the same rates and premiums.

"We are actually not increasing our rates at all this year," Quinley said. "From a cost perspective, (employees with domestic partners) are carrying their weight if they are paying their premium."

The only difference for an employee seeking to add a domestic partner is that he or she must provide additional evidence of a committed relationship, she said.

"They have the burden of proof for letting us know if they have a partner," Quinley said. "I am expecting anywhere from 100 to 200 partners added and partnered children."

"Partnered children" are the children of the domestic partners, similar to a step-child, Quinley said.

Who satisfies the requirements?

Part-time employees who work more than 25 hours, full-time employees and retirees are offered benefits for their spouses. In the new policy, a spouse is defined as a person who is of the opposite or same gender and is legally married to the employee or is a domestic partner of the employee.

"We want our policy to basically treat the partner like how we treat an opposite-sex spouse," Quinley said.

To qualify for benefits, a domestic partner must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Live with an employee at least one year in a marriage-like relationship.
  • Intend to live together indefinitely.
  • Share common necessities of life on an exclusive basis with the employee.
  • Be 18, be mentally competent to contract, not be related by blood to each other closer than would bar marriage in Missouri, and not be married to any person or be in a relationship with another person constituting a domestic partnership.

The benefits policy states that in a marriage-like relationship, an employee must be "currently engaged in a committed, exclusive, financially dependent relationship of mutual caring and support and joint responsibility for each other's common welfare."

Documents used to prove the requirements for additional health care can include a shared mortgage or a marriage license from a state that approves same-sex marriage, Quinley said.

Members of Columbia's Domestic Partnership Registry might not be eligible for benefits because the registry only requires a couple to be together for six months, instead of the year required by the public schools, she said.

"The reason we don't accept the Columbia Domestic Partnership Registry is because we can't control how they might choose to change their requirements," Quinley said.

Evolution of the benefits policy

Gov. Jay Nixon issued an executive order on Nov. 14 to let legally married same-sex couples jointly file federal tax returns because of a Supreme Court decision in June. Quinley said the Employee Benefits Committee discussed adding domestic partners before the high court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

She and the committee have been working toward adding benefits for domestic partners for three years and made the recommendation to the Columbia School Board in March.

"We needed to do something to help," Quinley said. "If we could have done it earlier than now, I believe (the board) would have done it."

Quinley said she decided to work on the benefits policy this summer because the district was already billing an attorney to make other changes to the policy.

She said that because it is self-insured, the district is exempt from many of the Affordable Care Act laws that will be enacted next year but takes on many of the risks insurance companies often do. She said the past couple of years have been "good insurance years," allowing for better financial planning.

The school board approved the changes to benefits policy on Sept. 9.

Now that enrollment has closed, the district's benefits staff of three is going through the forms to see whether the domestic partners employees requested are eligible for health care coverage. If an employee would like to override a benefits staff member's assessment, he or she may make an appeal to Quinley.

"It's been a learning curve for us," Quinley said.

Quinley said she hopes the new plan can ease the minds of those who are worried about not having a health care plan to fall back on.

"It takes the stress out of (the employees with uninsured partners) so they can focus on work when they are in school," she  said.

Editor's note: The following document is from an Oct. 2 report gathered by the Missouri Hospital Association and used by Columbia Public Schools' Employee Benefits Committee.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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Comments

Derrick Fogle November 21, 2013 | 10:32 p.m.

Where have all the regulars gone? Did the right-wing echo chamber finally burn itself out?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 22, 2013 | 12:13 a.m.

Derrick: Oh, a couple of right wingers are still here (Ellis, Mark, me), but the lefties have totally abandoned the place with the periodic exception of TonyB.

The President just got too embarrassing. With all his miscues, I think indefensible positions have become just too embarrassing to defend. A person would have to become a comedian to do such a thing. Why, Juan Williams just this evening discussed how the media and insurance industry were aiding the demise of Obamacare by calling all these notices "cancellations" instead of "changes", as if the rhetoric made any difference. Similarly, today I've seen replays of the 2005 liberal pleas (Obama, Biden, Reed, etc.) against the nuclear option exercised by the Senate....today.

Such (and similar) postures are just plain laughable.

Heck, the Missourian doesn't even talk about this stuff.......Of course, the Missourian attributes this to being a "local" newspaper, except when it is in their agenda interest to not be.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 22, 2013 | 5:48 a.m.

Michael:

You should also have included Richard Saunders, Skip Yates and Corey Parks. I'd characterize Mark Foecking's posts as being far more educational than biased.

There's no lack of comedians: there are columns on Wednesdays and Fridays presented by comedians. What makes them particularly comedic is the writers appear as if they want us to believe they are serious.

As for the article to which these posts have been attached, I now reside in a far more enlightened state than Missouri: here Adam has his legal choice between marrying Eve or Steve. :) It's all good!

Got any Skoal? I'm fresh out an' dyin' for a chew! It's another of them bad habits I picked up goin' to that technical institute in the Missouri Ozarks.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle November 22, 2013 | 7:37 a.m.

I left because the right-wing sychophants were a useless stream of excrement, turning the comment section into a river of foul stench. I don't mind you and Ellis so much, but most of the rest of them... just... eeewwww. Nothing more than a bunch of brain-dead false propaganda repeaters, filling their own echo chamber with their horrible selfish-righteous screeching sound.

Anyway, just wondering. Goodbye for awhile again.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 22, 2013 | 9:16 a.m.

Ellis: Yes, I forgot them and shouldn't have. Ol' age and memory loss are my only excuses.

Derrick: When you say a comment is "a useless stream of excrement" and "river of foul stench", were you referring to Martin Bashir's comments about Sarah Palin?

I ask only because I was curious what criteria you use to deem a comment worthy of an "excrement and foul stenches" classification.

Just askin'.........

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 22, 2013 | 1:58 p.m.

Derrick Fogle said, "I don't mind you and Ellis so much..."

Thanks, now I have a better understanding of the phrase "Being damned by faint praise."

I was hoping for "Ellis is a geriatric anti-social womanizing* troglodyte Capitalist pig, today retired from pursuits known to rape the landscape and pollute the atmosphere." Let it all hang out!

*- Not so much these days, but still on the lookout for any hot, geriatric babes. :)

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates November 23, 2013 | 2:25 p.m.

@Michael: Its not Obamacare anymore...of recent, the Democrats are stumbling all over themselves trying to remove Obama's name from it. With expected help from the media, please refer to it as the Affordable Care Act, and relate all problems with it to Republicans, insurance companies and the Tea Party.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates November 23, 2013 | 6:40 p.m.

The only "screeching" I see is Derrick's. Apparently, he came on here for no other reason than to make that comment. Oh, the irony. I wonder if he has ever noticed that the Missourian seldom, if ever, prints anything that may cause the liberal base to disagree.

(Report Comment)

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