In the majority of health plans offered to employees of cities and states, benefits are payable to dependents. There’s an interesting federal case working its way through the court system at present. It arises from El Paso where a radical Christian organization managed to get an ordinance approved by the voters in the last election. As background, this organization thinks homosexuality is an abomination but, instead of openly framing the ordinance to target gays, the wording was designed up uphold “traditional family values”. Thus, health coverage was only to be made available to those employed by the city, their spouses and dependent children. So instead of penalizing a small number of gay partners, this swept up hundreds of individuals whether as seniors or grandchildren. State law actually has provisions to protect the elderly who are dependent and those who have retired. Nevertheless, the city felt it was obliged by the ordinance to refuse benefits to anyone not an actual employee, a spouse or their dependent children. This sparked a very public argument between the city and the religious organization promoting the ordinance, but the organization refused to amend the wording or to assist the city in drafting a different version of the wording to limit its scope. For some reason, the religious leaders thought their intention clear in the wording and attacked the city as perverse in reading it as affecting hundreds of “other” people.
When warning notices terminating cover were sent out to some local judges, the President of the Police Association and other influential individuals, there was an immediate reaction in filing this case. A federal judge has now issued an injunction to restrain the city from implementing the ordinance pending a full hearing. The city, of course, has not defended the ordinance. It is on record as believing the wording of the ordinance to be discriminatory. Curiously, when the religious organisation tried to file a brief to support the ordinance, the judge ruled it had no standing to be a party. It will, however, be allowed to present arguments as a “friend of the court”.
What it all boils down to is a simple test. To be enforceable, the ordinance must fulfill a genuine public purpose, particularly because this will force the city to break the contract with the health insurer. It should be said that if the voters thought they were saving the city money and were reducing the deficit, the ordinance could deliver a legitimate public benefit except the city’s deficit is not that bad.
Putting this into a broader context, many cities are now finding themselves in similar difficulties with family values being used as an overall justification for cutting benefits to those not formally married. The Christian Right is on the march. So, when it comes to city health insurance plans, many equality groups are warming up proposals for the next round of elections. They are all aiming to outlaw any form of discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, and so on when it comes to all aspects of health insurance coverage. It could all be building to some interesting city elections particularly in the southern states.
For other highly informative insights on numerous topics from Haz Duell visit http://www.hiinetwork.com/health-insurance-plans.html. Haz Duell is a professional journalist with 15 years of experience delivering news to the public.
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