September 26, 2005
say Salt Lake mayor's benefits plan is too narrow
Salt Lake City Mayor
Rocky Anderson's firm position on his domestic-partners benefit plan
isn't gaining much traction, even among groups who usually back the
Anderson (in photo to
left) wants it limited to same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples,
while the critics want a broader plan.
In fact, Anderson's staunch opposition to opening up health-care
options to a wider array of city employee dependents is being panned by
health-care advocates, who say the mayor is sacrificing greater
health-care access at the altar of gay rights.
Those advocates favor a new City Council proposal, which would
create an ordinance offering employees who have other dependent
relationships — like parents living with adult children, adult siblings,
even roommates — the ability to access health-care benefits for those
That plan would also keep benefits for unmarried couples and their
children, said Councilwoman Jill Remington Love, who plans to bring the
ordinance to the City Council before year's end. That ordinance would
supersede the executive order Anderson signed Wednesday giving unmarried
domestic partners of city employees access to health care.
Anderson has opposed
the council plan, saying it avoids the political statement he wants to
make on equal rights for gay and unmarried couples and could cost too
However, health-care advocates — some of the mayor's biggest
supporters — say the mayor should support the plan that offers health
care to the most people.
"The more people you can get covered the better," said Dr. Scott
Leckman, a local physician who has been outspoken about creating a
universal health-care system. "With so many people uninsured I welcome
any chance to get more people covered."
And while they might personally favor gay rights, advocates don't
want the political issue to impede offering greater access to health
"We're just sympathetic to covering the most people in the most
cost-effective way possible," said Jodi Hillman, health program director
with Utah Issues. "The kind of statement the mayor is trying to make,
it's funny, it does take us away from the issue we are trying to work
On that point Dr. Joseph Jarvis, president of the Utah Health
"Health-care reform is an issue for everybody whether they're gay
or not," he said.
Even advocates in the gay community say they support opening up
health-care options to a wider range of people, at the possible cost of
diluting a political statement on gay rights.
"In the end if more people end up with health-care coverage and
gay and lesbian couples end up with coverage that's a good thing," said
gay Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, who appreciates the mayor's political
statement but has no problem expanding health-care options to more
people. That said, McCoy said he would still like the City Council to
recognize the sentiment that gay and lesbian families are worthy of
Anderson, who has often championed universal health-care coverage
in the United States, says offering coverage to the wide array of
dependents would increase the premiums current city employees would have
"We know that we have council members who are anti-gay and
lesbian," Anderson said. He added, "This opens the door for city
employees to bring people into their households who have enormous
health-care costs and saying now they should be on the city plan. It's
the employees who are going to have that added cost of claims."
But the city's benefits administrator Jodi Langford said there is
no data showing how such a wide-open dependent plan would impact
Currently, the city pays roughly $250 every two weeks for their
employees to have health-care coverage. If that employee wants to add a
dependent it costs $85 per paycheck for the most popular plan. Those $85
bimonthly payments might cover the additional claims that would arise
from new dependents being added, Langford said. However, there is no
data showing whether that $85 would be enough or if premiums would have
to be increased to cover those additional claims, Langford said.
Love said she feels she has enough votes on the City Council to
pass her ordinance, which would allow people in all kinds of
relationships, with some sort of financial dependence on a city
employee, to qualify for health-care coverage.
The ordinance would incorporate what Anderson did in his executive
order providing benefits to unmarried partners but expand those benefits
to a wider range of people.
"I don't really care what their relationship is; for me, I'm
focused on getting benefits to those who need them," Love said.
State Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, said he would have to see
the specifics of Love's plan but says on the surface it doesn't appear
to violate state law like Anderson's did.
"In concept you can indeed separate out the question of insurance
and you do not need to implicate it in the larger question of marriage,"
Christensen's concerns that Anderson's plan elevated gay marriage
to the same status as traditional marriage caused the city's health
benefits administrator — Public Employees Health Program — to decide to
file for a court opinion on the plan's legality before it will
PEHP plans to file for that court opinion next week. That court
opinion would likely be unneeded if the council goes ahead and passes an
ordinance providing benefits to the wider spectrum.
"It would totally become a moot point if the council acts,"