Local News

Municipalities, school board also concerned about same-sex insurance coverage

— The controversial subject of same-sex spouse insurance coverage continues in Highlands County.

The City of Sebring’s insurance committee will take up the topic at a summer meeting, Highlands County school board’s insurance policy already covers same-sex spouses, and the issue may be on a future Spring Lake agenda, District Manager Joe DeCerbo said.

The school board insures same sex spouses “if married in a state that recognizes same sex marriages,” said Director of Finance Bo Birt. Board members have already been informed of Florida Blue Cross & Blue Shield policy modifications.

“The board has not requested for this issue to be placed on an agenda,” Birt said, and board chairman Ronnie Jackson said Friday he doesn’t know if it will be discussed.

After an employee enrolled his spouse for health care benefits, Highlands County commissioners voted on the issue Tuesday, and vote 3-2 not to opt out.

Last month, the Lakeland Ledger reported that the city council decided it is not required to extend health care benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees who were married in other states. Florida does not sanction same-sex marriage, and Florida constitutional Amendment 2 defines marriage as “the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife; no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.” Section 741.212 does not recognize any same-sex marriage from any jurisdiction.

At first, Lakeland city officials told the newspaper, they misunderstood that because the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act that the city was required to provide benefits. Later, they reversed their position and informed the council that they aren’t required to allow gay employees add spouses to their health insurance policies.

However, the Ledger reported, the city’s health care consultant and a gay marriage expert advised that offering same-sex spousal benefits may keep the city from having to fight a lawsuit.

Stephanie Norman, vice president of Employee Benefit Design Inc., gave similar information to the City of Sebring, City Manager Scott Noethlich said. The subject is coming up at the City of Sebring, not because an employee has inquired or because of the county commission meeting, but because the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and new insurance regulations, said Noethlich.

According to a March 14 fact sheet on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight, if a health insurance issuer covers an opposite-sex spouse, the insurance company may not refuse to cover a same-sex spouse.

“Individual health insurance coverage cannot employ marketing practices or benefit designs that discriminate on the basis of certain specified factors. One such factor is an individual’s sexual orientation,” the DHHS fact sheet said.

The city is in the middle of rewriting its policy; options will be discussed in the next health insurance committee. “And then we’ll take it to council,” Noethlich said.

Because the city self-insures, it could be recognized as a “health insurance issuer,” Noethlich said. He’s also concerned about how federal regulations treat the city’s reinsurance carrier.

In Lake Placid, Town Manager Phil Williams said the subject hasn’t come up, and City Manager Julian Deleon said the concern has not been raised in Avon Park. “The city’s personnel policy manual ... addresses that employees can add dependent family members, while paying the added premium for the coverage. We strictly rely on the health insurance carrier to advise the city on the eligibility of potential dependents.”