This legislative session, Equality Utah will be asking Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. to do for gay and unmarried heterosexuals employed by the state of Utah what Mayor Ralph Becker did for those employed by Salt Lake City last year: give them the chance to insure their domestic partners on employee health insurance plans.
The sole executive order in the gay rights group’s Common Ground Initiative is structured almost exactly like Becker’s controversial 2008 proposal with one clear exception: its impact reaches far beyond the bounds of Utah’s comparatively gay-tolerant capitol and deeply into the state’s economic health.
““My argument in the end is [that this executive order] will not cost the state any money and will end up bringing more benefit than cost to the state,” said Jon Jepson, an insurance broker who helped draft the legislation. “It [also] improves worldwide perception of our business community: that it is diverse and progressive in Utah.” If the government permits its employees to insure their same-sex and unmarried heterosexual partners, or another adult who shares financial obligations but is not related by marriage, Jepson also argues that businesses would be encouraged to move to Utah, and “talented, committed employees” would be more likely to come to and remain in the Beehive State.
The proposed order, submitted recently to the governor, makes Jepson’s points along with a few others: namely, that allowing families of all arrangements to provide for themselves strengthens individual neighborhoods, and therefore the entire state.
Much like Becker’s executive order, the statewide policy change strictly defines who can and cannot be eligible for benefits. In its current draft, it identifies an adult designee as a non-spouse who has lived with the employee for at least a year, is at least 18 years old, and who shares at least three documents showing joint financial obligations in such things as life insurance policies, wills, loan obligations, mortgages, vehicle ownership, power of attorney or bank accounts.
Although the governor’s office has expressed a strong interest in stemming rising healthcare costs, it has also said that it wants to increase access to health insurance and health care coverage. And here, Equality Utah insists, is where the executive order could help the governor accomplish his goal, because it could reduce the number of same-sex partners on Medicaid—which could mean lower rates for others on the government program.
To demonstrate this point, Equality Utah quoted from research the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies conducted on companies that insure employees’ same-sex partners (little data existed on adult designee programs, the organization said). The research found that most businesses (which employ under 19 people) will see no change in costs while those with over 500 employees will see an increase of “just under $25,000 per year.”
“With more lives insured through the health insurance plan for the State of Utah [ the Public Employees Health Plan], the probability exists for insurance costs of the State and its employees to actually decrease (or at worst, remain unchanged),” the fact sheet read. “This means the actual cost to implement this policy could be nill [sic] to insignificant. Even if there was a small increase to the State for insurance costs, it can easily be transferred to the employee and/or their designee.”
Further, Jepson said that PEHP president, Jeff Jensen, had told Equality Utah in a meeting about the proposed policy change that costs for adult designees was actually less than for employees.
“This could theoretically have an overall impact of lowering insurance rates for the State of Utah if enough lives were added to the pool,” Equality Utah’s fact sheet concluded.
The Common Ground Initiative is a set of four bills and one policy change that seeks to secure more rights for gay and lesbian Utahns this legislative session, such as workplace and housing nondiscrimination protections, probate rights and a domestic partner rights and responsibilities act. To learn more about the Initiative, visit equalityutah.org.