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California and the West

UC Benefits Cost Less Than Expected

Health: Price of coverage for gays' partners is below projections, and no lawsuits result.

November 06, 1998|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Extending health benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian employees has cost the University of California far less than predicted, adding about $1 million to its yearly $442-million health insurance bill.

And university officials said the year-old policy has not spawned any costly lawsuits, as was suggested last November by Gov. Pete Wilson during his attempt to scuttle the benefits.

"Frankly, we have not seen any downside," said Lubbe Levin, UC's assistant vice president for human resources. "It seems to have made a big difference in overall morale. And it's helped us with our recruitment and retention of the most talented faculty and staff, since most of our competitors offer this."

The UC Board of Regents decided--by one vote--to include same-sex domestic partners in the university's health plan despite an all-out fight mounted by Wilson, who condemned the decision for "devaluing the institution of marriage."

Wilson argued that unmarried heterosexual couples would sue the university, forcing UC officials into the costly proposition of offering health benefits to girlfriends and boyfriends of unmarried employees.

But the university has not been sued, the UC general counsel's office says.

A total of 701 gay university employees and retirees have signed up their domestic partners for medical and dental coverage, representing about 0.5% of the nearly 130,000 current and former employees in the health plan, according to UC figures.

The new benefits policy also allowed employees to get health coverage for financially dependent relatives who live with them--a parent or a sibling for example. An additional 404 employees have signed up under that category.

Together, these two groups of beneficiaries have added $1.8 million to the university's health care budget--less than the $1.9 million to $5.6 million increase that university officials had expected.

"We didn't think it was going to break the bank," said UC San Diego researcher Sarah Archibald, co-leader of a university-wide association of gays and lesbians.

One reason the numbers were light, she said, is that employees have to pay taxes on such benefits extended to their unmarried partners.

The tax burden limited the benefits to only those who have no other options, she said. "Those who really need it are very grateful."

Wilson remains staunchly opposed to the policy, said Sean Walsh, the governor's spokesman. "The governor's view is that it discriminates against heterosexual partners, it costs money and it sets up a precedent to extend these benefits to other state workers."

No other state agencies offer such benefits.

At the 22-campus California State University system, two unions have requested domestic partner benefits in their ongoing collective bargaining negotiations.

But Cal State administrators note that their hands are tied until the Legislature changes state law to permit such benefits for state employees with health insurance provided through the California Public Employees Retirement System.

Although the University of California is a state institution, it is autonomous under the state Constitution and operates its own health and retirement benefits system.

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