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Ad Hoc Committee Supports Same-Sex Benefit Policy

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
June 25, 2008

An USNH-wide ad hoc committee that took a second look at medical benefits for same-sex couples has given its support to a proposed plan that would align USNH’s policy more closely with benefits provided through marriage.

The committee was convened in response to the change in New Hampshire law (RSA 457) that allows members of the same sex to enter civil unions. Currently, system employees with same-sex partners can receive medical benefits while unmarried heterosexual couples cannot.

Earlier this month, the committee crafted two options for the USNH Board of Trustees to consider. The group explored several issues including fairness, cost effectiveness, contemporary and comparative employment trends, effectiveness in recruitment, and manageable administrative oversight and implementation cost. They also weighed whether what was being proposed would be legally defensible and if it fit with the intent of the board’s original decision to cover same-sex partners.

The option the committee supports, Option 2, provides for medical benefits for those in civil unions and marriages. There is also a hardship provision that, if approved, could grant coverage for both same-sex and opposite-sex partners in situations where federal standards put them at a disadvantage.

What’s more, it would compensate those in civil unions for the imputed income tax they pay on their contribution to their medical plan. This measure is seen as making the plan equal to marriage. It would not apply to those people getting coverage under the hardship clause.

Advantages of the plan include a lower employer cost than the other plan - approximately $102,000 compared to $640,000; the hardship mechanism; the continued commitment to promoting social equality; and privacy and anonymity for same-sex couples where acknowledging a civil union could jeopardize military obligations, visa restrictions, pending adoptions and situations.

“The commission supports the second option, which would extend medical benefits to all those in civil unions or marriages but would also include a hardship exemption to cover those potentially disadvantaged by federal standards,” says Judy Spiller, associate provost for academic achievement and support. “We believe this option, which also includes compensation for those in civil unions to cover the cost of tax exposure for same sex- partner coverage, makes a significant step toward marriage equality.”

Spiller and Cari Moorhead, associate dean of the UNH graduate school, served on the committee. After the GLBT Commission met on June 17 and agreed unanimously to support the second option, Spiller and Moorhead gave their backing to the option as well.

Under Option 1, both same-sex and opposite-sex couples would be eligible for medical benefits in addition to those couples in a civil union or marriage. There wouldn’t be any compensation for imputed income tax.

The drawback to the option is the potential increase in the number of employees who would be eligible for benefits, which would substantially increase the employer health benefits costs by more than $600,000.

According to Joan Tambling, director of human resources, the recommendation will likely be taken up by the SPPC in September.





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