Douglas County will extend benefits to the same-sex spouses of employees who were married legally in other states.
The County Board voted Tuesday to change the definition of an eligible spouse from “legally married spouse” to “the person to whom the employee is legally married, regardless of whether that person is of the same gender or opposite gender of the employee.”
The new definition covers all benefits, including health insurance. The move puts the county on similar footing with the federal government, which issued new guidelines this year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” board member Mike Boyle said. “I think it’s the legal thing to do.”
The couple need not live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages, such as Iowa.
That was a sticking point for board member Clare Duda, who cast the lone vote against the measure. The other six board members voted in favor.
Duda said he supported bringing Douglas County in line with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which considers the employee’s state of residence.
“In a rush to political correctness, we’re going to be more generous with FMLA than the federal government,” he said.
The county, which is self-insured, will briefly reopen the open enrollment period that ended in November to allow eligible spouses to enroll. Benefits would begin Jan. 1.
The county recently began requiring new employees to show marriage certificates to prove spouses are eligible for benefits, Human Resources Director Lee Lazure said. That policy will continue for gay couples.
The move follows a decision by the City of Omaha not to extend health insurance and dental benefits to the spouses of legally married gay employees.
They still would be eligible for pension and flexible spending benefits. But Mayor Jean Stothert, citing policy language from Coventry, the city’s health plan administrator, said health and dental coverage would need to be negotiated in future union contracts.
The Omaha police union has filed a grievance, saying the city should use the definition of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, which was the city’s plan administrator when the labor contract went into effect.
Blue Cross already covers same-sex spouses who live in a state that recognizes their marriage. It announced recently that for groups fully insured through Blue Cross, same-sex spouses who are legally married will be covered, regardless of whether they live in a state that recognizes their union.
That will be the default definition for self-insured groups that contract with Blue Cross for claim administration, unless policyholders opt out before Jan. 1.
Sarpy County, which has a policy with Blue Cross, is deferring to the insurer with respect to defining “spouse,” said Karen Buche, the county human resources director.