GLBT Insurance, Employment Protections and Advocacy Frustrations

I promised myself that I would not be blogging politically for the foreseeable future b/c my frustration with the state of LGBT advocacy in Western Pennsylvania is just off the scale.  I have little objectivity b/c it is my actual life and livelihood and living conditions that have been cast aside in favor of bigger and better, suburban fried fish to fry.  And, yes, I resent that.  Quite a bit. 

Here's a good example of why I now think that HB 1400 is probably a waste of your time.

My employer began offering AFLAC last year.  My company offers domestic partner benefits across the board, from medical to family leave.  So I asked the AFLAC rep about a family policy for unmarried, domestic partners as our agency has many such families, both gay and straight.  She first said yes, then later told me that Pennsylvania insurance regulations prohibited AFLAC from offering me the same policy as a married couple.  Instead, I could purchase two individual policies at a higher combined price.  I declined.   I had no reason to disbelieve her.

Fast forward many months and we are meeting with local financial advisor, Deborah Hughes.  She hooks us up with some insurance brokerish dude who can get us a similar policy.  I ask him about the insurance regulations.  He looks into it.  He won't give me a straight answer because he's trying to sell me a different policy that he claims is better.  At this point, my curiosity about the so-called regulations is much stronger than my interest in the policy so I decline.

I contact State Representative's Dan Frankel (former insurance guy himself) and Chelsa Wagner (my rep).  Their staff do some digging and discover that PA regulations do not prohibit AFLAC or any insurance company from offering coverage to unmarried couples. Nor, however, do the regulations require them to do so.  So the decision is up to the company.

I passed the information along to my employer and ask them to investigate.  We'll see where that leads.  I also emailed AFLAC and received no response thus far.

Then I start to think.  Does non-discrimination in the workplace promised by HB 1400 mean that employers have to offer access to the same benefits at the same price?  Would it force employers who want to offer AFLAC to make the coverage universal regardless of family type? 

I asked.  I emailed Frankel's staff.  I was given this information:

HB 1400 would simply require that employers cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identification. Therefore, if one employee is offered benefits, the company cannot refuse to offer benefits to an individual based on his/her sexual orientation or gender identification.

And advised to contact the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission for more information as the Human Relations Act is what will be amended by HB 1400.  So I dutifully looked up their website which I must say is very under-impressive and kitschy.  I finally figured out who I could call.  The woman who answered the phone kept asking me if I wanted to file a complaint.  I explained that I wanted to get some clarification on the impact of HB 1400 in my workplace.  She transferred me.  Then I was told that they can't answer my question until the bill passes and some sort of period passes.  Then I was told I should consult a lawyer.

Huh?  I should consult a lawyer to get information on AFLAC?  The attorney fees would mitigate any financial benefit to purchasing the policy.

So I've consulted with a HR department, an AFLAC sales rep, a financial advisor from Edward Jones, a rogue insurance broker type guy, two State Senators, the PA Insurance Commission, AFLAC HQ, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.  To what end?  No answer. 

So why bother?  If it takes this much energy to get exactly nowhere on such a small matter related to employment, should I have confidence that any of these people will really be in my corner if I experience more significant discrimination (again, not sure if the AFLAC thing is discrimination)?  I've been discriminated against in the workplace because of my sexual orientation (and my gender).  It is an ugly, diminishing experience and I was grateful I did not need to go to an external source for redress (my employer was in the City limits).

Now, I'm doubly grateful.  My lord.  Such energy for such a simple question. 

I'm beginning to suspect that our allies in politics are quite happy to get the glory of setting up these legislative victories, but not concerning themselves with implementation.  Such is the case with the Pittsburgh Domestic Registry.  We've learned that despite landmark legislation extending workplace protections to homosexuals and the extension of domestic partner benefits to City employees, only five same sex couples (and 65 common law married couples) have applied.  Five.  That seems really low given that we are one of those five couples.  So how groundbreaking was the whole effort in the 1990's if so few people choose to access that particular benefit?  (The City offers AFLAC, too, but let's not go there.)

According to the US Census, more than 60% of the City's African-American residents are not married.  Nearly 58% of African-American families headed by an unmarried female were below the poverty level in 2000.  That's a lot of folks who wouldn't qualify for AFLAC if their lover, boyfriend, fiancee, whatever doesn't put a ring on their finger.  Add in the fact that lower income families are more likely to have marginal or poor credit and unable to meet the requirements for the Domestic Registry, at least at first blush … and you have a problem that is going to hurt a lot more than poor queer people.

Who is looking out for these folks?  I emailed Doug Shields, Tonya Payne and Bruce Kraus about this situation.  Shields emailed me back, but I don't think he understood my point — that could be on me.  I called Kraus' office.  Staff was nice, but had no answers.  Bruce hasn't called me in the six weeks since then.  Tonya Payne's office just blew me off.

So, I guess one noisy lesbian doesn't make much of an impact.  Who will?  Who is looking out for folks impacted by these City matters?  The gay advocates have turned their attention elsewhere. Do local poverty advocates care?  That's one group I haven't networked with on this.  The State can't even resolve the AFLAC issue.

Everyone is so concerned about electing The Incarnation on the national level that they've forgotten that politics is local.  I guess.  Maybe? 

No wonder Bill Peduto is getting in touch with his inner Al Gore.  HB 1400 is just going to provide a new level of distraction away from all the current promises and policies and programs that aren't working.  Why bother? 

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