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Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 03:29 am

Committee to ‘revisit’ civil union partner insurance Jan. 10

Springfield Mayor Michael Houston announced his support for providing health insurance benefits for partners of employees in civil unions at a news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

Mayor Houston’s decision comes as a response to a vote on Dec. 20 by the Joint Labor/Management Healthcare Committee, which voted 10-0 (Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards and Ward 9 Ald. Steve Dove were absent) to not provide spousal benefits to city employees who have entered into civil unions. The committee’s decision is largely based on an actuarial estimate of an additional $725,000 in premiums that the city would have to pay for spouses of employees in civil unions.

The city of Springfield is self-insured, a right which is granted by the Illinois Municipal Code.

Since its creation in 2002, the committee has acted as the controlling and policy-making body for Springfield’s employee health insurance coverage.

In a joint statement released Tuesday, Jan.3 by Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner and Ward 6 Ald. Cory Jobe, the two aldermen applauded Mayor Houston’s comments. Both aldermen previously requested information regarding the actuarial study that was used to calculate the proposed cost to the city and information about the decision making process used by the committee, but as of Jan. 3 neither had received any information. 

“Hopefully once all this information has been made available the City of Springfield can move forward in providing benefits in a non-discriminatory manner under the spirit of the law,” the statement read.

Mayor Houston explained that neither himself nor the city council have any say in the committee’s decision because this is “a labor/management agreement between the city and 13 different collective bargaining unions. It is not something that we can unilaterally do.

“It has been the committee’s policy to follow the guidelines of the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in the operation of our self-insurance program, even though ERISA does not apply to governmental plans. At the time of the passage of the state legislation (on civil unions), the committee decided to continue to follow those guidelines as has been their standard practice since its inception. The federal government does not recognize civil unions,” Houston said.

The St. Louis-based actuary, Ray Martin, estimated it would cost $725,000 to provide coverage, based on the assumption that the city will have 65 civil partner participants in the plan.

However, Mayor Houston said that he does not expect the number of civil partner participants in the plan to be as high as 65, while noting that there have only been a total of 106 civil unions in Sangamon County since the Illinois civil union law went into effect on June 1.

“Given the experience of other units of government that are providing civil union coverage, I do not believe that there will be a large number of participants joining the plan. I urge the committee to strongly consider that assumption in reevaluating its position, especially since it is able to review and adjust premiums on a quarterly basis. Ultimately, I believe that it is something that we should provide, whether or not we have a legal obligation to do so.”

Jim Gates, committee co-chair and the city’s labor relations manager, said that the health committee is open to the possibility of revisiting the issue.

“The committee has never taken the position that it wouldn’t revisit any issue that comes up. The committee made its decision based on the information that it had at that point and time. We had a time frame (by the end of December, 2011) to make some decisions about the premiums for the next fiscal year, and in part for the budget next year. So, if we need to revisit it, then we certainly are going to do that,” Gates said.

Mayor Houston said that the committee will meet again to address his suggestion on Tuesday, Jan. 10.

Contact Neil Schneider at nschneider@illinoistimes.com
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