Monday, December 1, 2003




Orange county,N.C. to offer partner benefits




A story published today by the Herald-Sun reports that North Carolina's Orange county will offer benefits to domestic partners of county employees, but the health-insurance policy won't be available to them until Jan. 1, 2005.

The county renews its health insurance policy at the beginning of each year, but this year's deadline for changes to the group policy has already passed.

With little discussion or fanfare, Orange County Commissioners made the decision to add domestic-partner benefits at a recent work session. Domestic partners are unmarried, unrelated couples who live together in a committed relationship and have some type of financial interdependence.

Commissioner Alice Gordon said the board has philosophically supported a domestic-partner benefit, but it was too expensive for the county to add in the past.

"We talked about it before and we thought it was the right thing," Gordon said. "That's basically the reason. We basically thought it was the right thing to do."

The new benefits will be available to both same and opposite-sex couples.

Initially, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners' Health Insurance Trust, which Orange County uses, did not offer domestic-partner benefits. Then the trust began offering the option, but using it would have resulted in a 1-percent increase in the county's health insurance rates.

Now, however, there is no further charge for the coverage except for the cost associated with additional enrollments.

In September, Durham became the first county in the state to provide health insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners of county employees. The Durham County Commissioners' unanimous vote capped about 10 months of heated debate on whether to offer the benefits.

Orange County benefits affected by the change in policy include dependent health, dental, life, retiree health insurance, funeral leave, sick leave, shared leave and family leave of absence.

The estimated cost to the county if seven employees -- about 1 percent of the county's work force -- participate in the domestic-partner coverage would be no more than $18,000 annually, officials said.






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