When Utah’s Intermountain Healthcare announced in October that it would extend benefits to unmarried partners (of either sex) of employees, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups across the country hailed the move as a milestone for Utah businesses.
“Equality Utah celebrates this monumental policy change,” said Brandie Balken, executive director of statewide gay and transgender rights group Equality Utah, in a release at the time. “[W]e see this as an incredibly important shift. Intermountain Healthcare is one of the largest businesses in Utah with over 32,000 employees. We applaud them for stepping forward and joining other businesses in providing equal access to health care benefits.”
However, not all Intermountain employees were as pleased once they discovered that the company, the third largest employer in the state, would not be subsidizing the benefits. Rather, employees who want to insure their unmarried partners will do so at cost, meaning that they will likely pay anywhere from $100–$300 more than would a legally married couple, from $100–$400 more than an employee and his or her children, according to figures released by The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month.
“They’re not truly treating us as equals,” Life Flight nurse Lori Hutchison told the paper, saying that writing letters of complaint to the company as she did was the only recourse same-sex partners had.
“We have no legal standing,” she said. “Any company that offers domestic-partner benefits does it because it’s the right thing to do, not because they have to.”
Intermountain spokesperson Daron Cowley said that while insurance benefits for employees’ unmarried partners were not subsidized, they were still guaranteed issue, this giving “access to coverage for some people who might not normally qualify.”
At press time, Cowley had not returned phone calls seeking further comment about employees’ reactions and whether Intermountain would reconsider subsidizing domestic partner benefits in the future.
Balken said that she was surprised when she saw the company’s rate sheet.
“I commend Intermountain for taking the first small step in allowing access to benefits,” she said. “We will continue to have conversations about equity in the way those benefits are applied.”
Balken added that she had called the company and left a message asking for the reason why insuring one person could potentially cost an employee more than insuring his or her entire family. She said she had yet to receive a response.
“I look forward to continuing that conversation so I can understand and we can understand as a community why there is such a difference in insuring up to five or six people as opposed to one person,” she said.