by Sam Levin
Some good news today for LGBT employees at the University of Missouri: The board of curators has voted to expand health-care benefits to include same-sex partners, a change which advocates say is long overdue.
"They were at a distinct disadvantage in being able to recruit and retain staff and faculty," A.J. Bockelman, executive director of PROMO, Missouri's LGBT advocacy group, tells Daily RFT. "This has become fairly standard."
University officials and PROMO -- which has pushed for this extension in health-care benefits -- announced today that it is officially moving forward with the more inclusive plan.
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"Any time that you're able to extend additional health benefits by an employer, it's a win-win for both the employer and the employees," Bockelman says.
The change is simple, but, supporters say, could make a big difference for LGBT employees and recruits who can now access benefits for their partners.
Previously, employees in domestic partnerships -- regardless of sexual orientation -- could not receive such benefits.
But now, "cohabitants meeting specific criteria" will be eligible to receive the same benefits as spouses of University of Missouri employees, PROMO says. This would include same-sex couples and straight couples in domestic partnerships. The group says that this is modeled after a similar plan that has been successful at the University of Kentucky.
Bockelman says, "There's very little cost difference when these types of benefits are introduced."
He says that a 2012 study shows the rate can be as low as .25 percent of employees utilizing new benefits when institutions like state university systems adopt expanded health care policies of this nature.
At the University of Missouri, he says, there are roughly 250 employees in domestic partnerships that may now take advantage of this, with about 50 of them being same-sex couples.
Still, it can make a big difference to have a policy that doesn't exclude gay couples and unmarried couples in general, he says.
"You had faculty who have chosen not to take positions with the university because they didn't offer these benefits," he says, "or potentially you lose current employees because they find another university that can take them on and provide coverage for their partner."
Wayne Goode, chairman of the board of curators, the governing body of the university system, praises the change in a statement provided by PROMO: "Part of the University of Missouri System's mission is to advance the health of the people of Missouri. As a University of Missouri Curators Board member, I believe this addition to our health and welfare benefits will help faculty and staff be more productive and will help recruit and retain those of high quality."
PROMO also offers this comment from Zuleyma Tang-Martinez, founders professor of biology, who has been at the University of Missouri St. Louis for more than 36 years and has pushed for this reform:
This is something we have fought for and waited for, for more than 20 years. I am thrilled that the university has finally recognized that granting domestic partner benefits levels the playing field for all its employees and will also enhance the university's ability to attract the best national and international scholars, regardless of their sexual orientation. This was the right thing to do, but long overdue.
The university references the health-care expansion in a larger announcement on the board of curators' recent budget approval. The relevant excerpt from that news release says:
In order to remain competitive in the recruitment and retention of high quality faculty and staff, the board also voted to add sponsored adult dependents as an option in the health and welfare benefits. This allows faculty and staff to cover another adult, who meets certain criteria, to their plan. Employees will pay the applicable monthly premium. This benefit is provided by most large employers nationally as well as in Missouri, and is also becoming standard practice within higher education.
And Tim Wolfe, president of the University of Missouri System, says in a statement, "We are a people-driven institution focused on providing a quality, affordable, accessible education to all Missourians. We must invest in our people to be able to carry out our mission, which affects our students and the state of Missouri."