LPS, other districts to offer health coverage to same-sex spouses

2013-12-28T04:00:00Z LPS, other districts to offer health coverage to same-sex spousesBy MARGARET REIST / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Lincoln Public Schools — along with most Nebraska school districts — will begin offering health insurance to legally married same-sex couples in 2014, a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Educators Health Alliance, a risk pool that insures all but three of Nebraska’s school districts through Blue Cross Blue Shield, told its members the change would be effective Jan. 1. Employees can apply for benefits for same-sex spouses during an open enrollment period through Jan. 31.

Now, Blue Cross Blue Shield extends benefits to married same-sex couples only if they live in a state where gay marriage is legal — and that doesn't include Nebraska.

In July, a 5-4 vote by the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples who were legally married. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage.

After the high court ruling, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service amended guidelines to define spouses as any individuals legally married under any state law, and Blue Cross Blue Shield followed suit, according to a letter sent to all its members in November.

Those members included the Educator’s Health Alliance, which notified school districts of the change earlier this month.

Blue Cross Blue Shield insures several thousand employer groups in Nebraska, according to an insurance spokesman.

The city and county also use Blue Cross Blue Shield. Lancaster County Board members discussed making a similar change last month, but decided to hold off until they could do further research. City officials have said they will decide next year.

The state, which is no longer insured by Blue Cross Blue Shield, does not extend coverage to same-sex couples.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln extended coverage to same-sex and opposite-sex adults who share an employee's household and are financially interdependent. 

Eric Weber, LPS associate superintendent of human resources, said the district is complying with the Blue Cross Blue Shield change and notified its employees Thursday.

He expects a small number of employees to apply for the benefits, and said the financial impact on the district likely will be minimal since employees pay a greater percentage of the premiums for dependents.

The district pays nearly 90 percent of single-coverage premiums, and 68 percent for spouse, dependent and family coverage, he said.

That could be different for districts that cover 100 percent of health insurance, which tends to happen more frequently in the western part of the state.

The change pertaining to coverage for same-sex couples did not result in a rate increase for employees, said Greg Long, with the Educators Health Alliance, although fees resulting from the Affordable Care Act did result in a 2.3 percent increase.

Three of the state’s 249 school districts — Millard, Wayne and York — are self-insured and can decide whether they want to make the change or keep their policies the same.

LPS’s Weber said the change also will apply to dental coverage offered through Blue Cross Blue Shield.

He said the district doesn’t anticipate changing other benefits, such as family leave, which already are broad enough to include same-sex partners. 

The district is looking into other implications of the change, such as whether married same-sex couples can use federal pre-tax savings plans such as flexible spending accounts.

​Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com

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