Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Battle Set for Domestic Partner Benefits

When Governor Doyle formally proposes offering domestic partner benefits for state and UW employees in his address tonight, it's going to set into motion one of many budget battles with Republicans in the legislature this spring.

It's unclear whether the constitutional marriage and civil unions ban passed last November will play a role in the outcome of the debate, but what is clear is that the hype around the ban certainly raised the public's awareness of domestic partner benefits as a significant issue.

Republicans in the Assembly are fighting the benefits by claiming the state shouldn't be responsible for picking up the medical costs "for the boyfriends and girlfriends of state employees," as the spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) put it. The implication of that statement being that if domestic partner benefits are allowed, the state will be forced into subsidizing frivolous relationships.

Of course, qualifying for domestic partner benefits would not be as simple as dating a state employee. Just as an example, here are the qualifications for domestic partner benefits in the state of Oregon. Both partners must be at least 18 years old, they must have lived together for at least 6 months, they cannot be blood relatives, they cannot have been married or receiving other domestic partner benefits in the last 6 months, and they must be able to provide multiple documents proving they have joint financial responsibility for basic living expenses.

But if Republicans in the legislature are still concerned that some will be able to game the system, perhaps the most appropriate step would be to dismantle the existing health insurance structure that ties benefits to employment.

After all, considering committed same sex couples cannot opt for a civil union or marriage in Wisconsin, it only seems reasonably fair to afford them some avenue to participate in the same health insurance system that heterosexual couples can access through marriage. If there's no way to make that happen without abuse, then that system needs to go.

It is quite a clever tactic, though, whether or not it was actually intended as one. Eliminating the manners in which same sex couples can demonstrate they are committed -- i.e., civil unions and marriage -- and then claiming those couples also can't share state employment benefits because we'll never know if they're truly committed or just gaming the system.

UPDATE: Fair Wisconsin just released an updated list of employers in the state, public and private, that currently offer domestic partner benefits.

13 Comments:

Blogger Dad29 said...

It's also possible for the 'partner' to "access" health insurance by GETTING A JOB!!

They retain that right.

February 13, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

As do married spouses. They just happen to have the additional right to participate in their wife's or husband's employment benefits, which is the issue here.

February 13, 2007  
Blogger Dave Diamond said...

Y'see, Seth, if we let a bunch of queer perfessers get in-surance, next thing you know this guy'll be wantin' dental coverage for his "husband." Slippery slope, man!

February 13, 2007  
Blogger M.Z. Forrest said...

It is arguable whether society accrues greater benefit when both parents work with children. I've never seen a person claim that society suffers when a gay lover watches Judge Brown all day.

I am in agreement that we would be better for having a universal single-payer system.

February 13, 2007  
Blogger Russ said...

The problem Seth is free health care for people living together is paid for with our tax dollars. Our politicians have been very generous at providing free health care for public sector employees, but you never hear them propose free health care for everyone else. If that is'nt discrimination I don't know what is. Every citizen of this state should be paying their fair share of health care costs. Furthermore over the years the governor and legislature have failed miserably at controlling health care costs, with their endless adding of mandates and preventing consummers from shopping for common health care procedures. Wake up people, consumer driven free markets work, government monopolies do not.

February 13, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Russ,

I'm quite aware, as I imagine most people are, that public money funds compensation for public employees. The question here is whether people who are not married -- or, more directly, are not allowed to be married or engaged in a civil union -- should be able to participate in their partner's benefits as married spouses are able to do. It's coming out of the public coffers whether it's a married man accessing his publicly-employed wife's health care benefits or a gay man accessing his publicly-employed partner's health care benefits.

February 13, 2007  
Blogger Dad29 said...

Well, Seth, you've proposed a solution.

NO benefits at all for Public Employees.

It's non-discriminatory, and saves a boatload (or more) of money.

Health insurance for spouses happens to be a recognition of the value of marriage to the well-ordered State.

February 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dad, you're on to something there. If marriage will make us more well-ordered state, I'm all for it -- we need more people to get married instead of living together.

So we're in agreement that gay marriage is a good thing.

February 14, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Dad29, you'd honestly propose eliminating all state employee benefits just to avoid letting gay and lesbian couples participate in the same benefits? What is it about domestic partner benefits that really upsets you -- is it the fiscal side of it, or is it something else?

What I proposed wasn't eliminating benefits for public employees, but rather dismantling the entire system of tying health care benefits to employment. I happen to think health care should be a right of citizenship, not something that's at the discretion of one's employer.

Under the two fundamental health care reform proposals before the legislature, the WHP and the WHCPP, state employees probably would end up among the "losers," as described in the WPRI study of the WHP plan. But, as a state employee myself, I'd gladly trade in my "cadillac" health plan if it meant coverage for everyone in the state under a centralized system.

February 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I happen to think health care should be a right of citizenship, not something that's at the discretion of one's employer."

And this is the problem - you don't understand the definition of a right. You have the right to free speech. You do not have the right to someone else's time and expertise. Healthcare is dependent on the labor of other people - you have no right to that labor. Free Speech is not dependent on anyone else's labor.

Health care is a service - the same as a barber. In our economic and political structure you pay for services. If you want health care to be a right - then you want a different political structure such as socialism.

Now, helath care for all might be a noble cause, it might be the sign of enlightened society but it is simply not a right.

February 14, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

For starters, Anon, there are explicit constitutional rights -- which is what it seems you're referring to when defining a "right" -- that are service-based. The right to an attorney is one. The right to a jury trial is another.

Secondly, beyond all that, not all "rights" are explicitly stated in the constitution. For instance, most people in the US would consider K-12 education a right, even though it doesn't say a thing about it in the US constitution (it does in the Wisconsin and other state constitutions, however).

My thinking of developing health care as a right is in the same vein that education was developed as a right in this country. If that takes amending our state or federal constitutions, I'm fine with it, although I'm not sure that would be necessary (writing it into law should do).

And regarding your seemingly rigid definition of socialism, the fact is the US has a number of socialist aspects to it -- for instance, public education -- but that doesn't make the country a socialist state, and neither would publicly insured health coverage.

February 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your legal rights arguments is part of the "equal protection under the law" right. You don't have the right to any attorney because you want to sue your neighbor for cutting a tree down onto your house. The right to an attorney was created to place a check the use of the power of government in prosecution.

Health care is not providing a balance against government power.

As for education, I believe our current system is far too socialist in its application. I am a school choice supporter and think it should be applied statewide. Education money should be sent to the parents so they can spend it any accredited school - pulic, private, charter - whatever. That would certainly take away some the socialist tendencies - but not remove them altogether.

And I am not implying that education makes us a socialist state. However, government run health care does have that effect - for this reason: Education now has options - free or private. If you are not happy with the public education system, you can send your kids to private school. If you have a government run health system - what is the health care alternative? In Canada, they have the US system as an alternative - but where would the alternative be in the US?

With school choice the kids are given a chance with access to schools other than MPS - which I would argue for too long did not meet up to its "educational rights" requirement.

The practical application of your idea of health care as a right - where people are bound by the law to provide services - is a government-run system.

February 14, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

There isn't a there isn't a single universal health care proposal out there that proposes "government run health care."

No one is interested in public ownership of providers, and it's rare for universal health plans to even involve public ownership of payers. The government would be simply ensuring that every citizen has access to affordable health coverage -- that is, insurance -- and the most efficient and equitable way to do that is through some sort of centralized system such as the WHP and WCHPP at the state level or the proposals by Sen. Wyden and John Edwards at the national level. Not one of these plans involves public ownership of providers, and only the WCHPP involves public ownership of the payer (although the plan would be administered privately).

And, for the record, the right to an attorney and a jury trial is not part of the equal protection clause, it's part of the 6th amendment. And regardless of why those rights exist, or the fact that it needs to be a criminal trial for the right to an attorney to apply, the point holds that rights can be service-based.

February 14, 2007  

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