First Year Tab for State Employees’ Domestic Partner Benefits Tops $7 Million

MacIver News Service – [Madison, Wisc…] Providing health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of state employees will cost more than $7 million dollars this year.

State Senator Glenn Grothman

On Tuesday, the Department of Employee Trust Funds reported 700 employees have switched from single to family coverage to take advantage of the extended benefits. That will cost the state $7.4 million dollars this year. $3.1 million of that will come from general purpose tax revenues and $4.3 million will come from program revenues and segregated funds.

Even though the benefits are currently coming in under projections, some state lawmakers are disappointed the state chose to offer additional benefits while facing a $6.6 billion deficit at the time the budget bill was drafted. For Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) a $7.4 million price tag is no cause for celebration.

“Both numbers struck me as high,” said Grothman. “Both the 700 people and the $7.4 million.”

Grothman pointed out that with 70,000 state employees, 700 people taking advantage of the new benefits amounts to a full one percent of the workforce.

The new domestic partner benefits were adopted as part of the state’s biennial budget last summer. They went into effect on January 1, 2010. The Department of Employee Trust Funds released their cost estimate at a meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules on Tuesday.

Domestic partner state benefits are different from the state’s domestic partner registry. Domestic partner benefits are available to same sex and heterosexual couples who have one partner who receives employee benefits while working for the State.

“Registration on the domestic partner registry under Chapter 770 does not create a domestic partnership for Chapter 40 benefit purposes. The ONLY way to establish a domestic partnership for Chapter 40 benefit purposes is by filing this completed affidavit with ETF,” reads the affidavit for establishing proof of domestic partnership.

That affidavit is the only proof the state requires to sign up for domestic partnership benefits, which leaves the program at risk for abuse. The affidavit outlines the definition of domestic partnership, which includes: both people are over 18, live together, not related by blood but consider themselves to be members of the same immediate family, and are responsible for each other’s basic living expenses.

The initial cost domestic partner benefits  only cost the state more if employees switched from single to family coverage. That is because the first-year costs only account for initial premiums, not losses. 

“However, over time, as the additional medical costs of more enrollees are built into future premium calculations, additional costs would accrue to the state. It is not possible, therefore, to accurately estimate the extent to which these costs would emerge in the 2009-11 biennium,” according to an analysis of the proposal written by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau before it became law upon the passage of the 2009-11 State Budget.