Today's the day. July 1, 2009. Health coverage kicks in for domestic partners -- gay or straight -- of many state workers and retirees in Pennsylvania.
"This is the greatest step toward equal rights for the LGBT community in Pennsylvania since Gov. Shapp outlawed discrimination in state employment in 1975," said Mark Segal, Publisher of The Philadelphia Gay News.
Essentially, domestic partners and their dependent children will be treated the same as spouses of the covered employees and retirees. The benefits comes through the Pennsylvania Employees Benefit Trust Fund and includes medical, prescription drug, dental, vision and hearing coverage.
The benefits covers more than 140,000 active and retired workers. Governor Ed Rendell not only supported the move, but felt it was long overdue.
"The more people that are covered by health insurance, the better, that's our general world view," said spokesman Chuck Ardo. "But in this particular case, it's just a matter of fairness. Gay employees work equally as hard, equally as long as any other state employee and deserve to be treated equally."
Trustees voted back in September to approve the benefits.
"I think the trustees were all in agreement that it was the right thing to do and the time to do it," said David R. Fillman, the trust fund chairman who also heads the AFSCME local that represents thousands of state employees. “It was a matter of costing things out and making sure it was affordable but, putting that aside, this is something we should have done a while ago, and we’re glad we’re doing it now,” Fillman told Philadelphia Gay News. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
The move also puts Pennsylvania in a better position to recruit and keep the most qualified workers, according to Christy Leo, communications director for PEBTF. “We basically want to become competitive with other employers,” Leo said. “A lot of other employers do provide such a benefit, so in order to be competitive we thought we needed to extend benefits to domestic partners.”
To be eligible for coverage, domestic partners have to be at least 18. You have to show you've lived together for at least six months and provide proof -- such as a joint bank account or an assignment of power of attorney -- that your lives are intertwined.