Breaking News: Pa. grants domestic-partner benefits
by Jen Colletta
May 14, 2009 | 13562 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Pennsylvania state employees in same-sex relationships will now be able to obtain the same medical benefits for their partners as heterosexual married employees.

The Pennsylvania Employees Benefit Trust Fund, a non-governmental agency that oversees the state benefits programs, will offer medical, prescription drug, dental, vision and hearing-aid benefits to the same- and opposite-sex domestic partners of all PEBTF-eligible employees, which amounts to about 81,000 individuals.

The approximately 60,000 retired state employees eligible for the Retired Employees Health Program will also be able to extend their benefits to domestic partners.

The policy change additionally allows children of domestic partners to be included on benefits plans.

Chuck Ardo, press secretary for Gov. Ed Rendell, expressed the governor’s approval of the new policy.

“The governor supports this decision and believes that it is long overdue,” Ardo said.

The 18-member PEBTF board voted unanimously for the policy change in September and opened up the benefits registration process on May 1. The new program will go into effect July 1.

The agency began looking into extending domestic-partner benefits to state employees in July 2005 and brought in actuaries to evaluate what other states and companies offered similar programs, as well as to analyze the price tag for such a change.

“It was a matter of costing things out and making sure it was affordable but, putting that aside, this is something we should have done a while ago, and we’re glad we’re doing it now,” said Dave Fillman, chair of the PEBTF board of trustees. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

Fillman noted that the domestic-partner policy will help the state recruit new workers interested in an employer that offers such benefits and assist Pennsylvania in retaining qualified employees.

“As with any benefit enhancement, we’re hoping that this will provide a benefit for someone who was considering state service that wasn’t provided before,” he said. “It’s pretty much a win-win for everyone.”

Christy Leo, PEBTF communications director, said the policy puts Pennsylvania in a better position to vie with other states and companies for the most-qualified employees.

“We basically want to become competitive with other employers,” Leo said. “A lot of other employers do provide such a benefit, so in order to be competitive we thought we needed to extend benefits to domestic partners.”

Domestic-partner benefits are offered at the majority of Fortune 500 companies — including all 27 headquartered in Pennsylvania. State employees in 15 other states, including Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, are also eligible for domestic-partner benefits.

Pennsylvania already offers employees life-insurance and long-term care options for domestic partners, but they were not eligible for the medical benefits.

Steve Glassman, chair of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said the issue is a matter of basic fairness.

“This is important in order to bring equity to everyone who works for the commonwealth,” Glassman said. “Particularly in these difficult economic times, it only makes sense to ensure that every family has equal protections and benefits.”

To apply for the program, employees must submit three documents proving the relationship with their partner, which could include a domestic-partner certificate from a government agency, a property deed or lease or motor-vehicle title with both individuals’ names, drivers’ licenses with a common address, a joint bank account statement or documents proving that one individual has power-of-attorney rights or is the other’s life-insurance beneficiary.

Domestic partners must be over 18, mentally competent and have lived with the employee for at least six months.

State employees seeking to enroll in the program should contact their individual agency’s human-resources office to obtain the paperwork.

Jen Colletta can be reached at jen@epgn.com.

Copyright 2009 Philadelphia Gay News

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