Partner of Alleg Co Employee Speaks Out on Termination of Domestic Partner Benefits

 

I am scheduled for a total knee replacement 8/2014. I also need to have a hysterectomy as I have tested positive for precancerous cells and have a family history.

Eileen Halloran  and her partner have been together for nearly ten years. They have 3 adult children and 2 grandchildren. Five years ago, Eileen’s partner took a job with Allegheny County and two years ago, she and Eileen signed up for domestic partner benefits. She is part of the SEIU Local 688, the Social Services Union. Eileen is self-employed.

Allegheny County has announced plans to eliminate domestic partner benefits effective July 31 using the rationale that same-sex partners can now get married. Eileen  responded to some questions I posed, explaining how health issues and their current plans for a wedding in 2016 make this an unreasonable burden. Her partner has opted not to be named publicly.

Allegheny County Domestic Partnership
Eileen

How long have you utilized the domestic partner benefits? What impact have they had on your life?

We signed up immediately for domestic partner benefits when they were offered. The benefit package offered is amazing. It is expensive to cover Eileen, but with all of her health issues, we decided it was in our best interested to take advantage of the offer. She had a previous Highmark Health plan, but it did not offer unlimited physical therapy benefits which was the major selling point to is, considering her health issues.She owed UPMC, thousands of dollars  for Physical Therapy performed before and after previous major surgeries. She also was able to have vision and dental benefits.

You are facing serious health issues now.  (Eileen responds)

I am scheduled for a total knee replacement 8/2014. I also need to have a hysterectomy as I have tested positive for precancerous cells and have a family history of family members dying of complications due to such. I also have a torn bicep and rotator and have been putting that off as a later fix, as my first two health concerns need to take priority for me.

You mentioned plans to marry in 2016. Tell us about your plans. Why did you pick 2016?

We chose 2016 as we want to share our celebration with our families. Our son and his fiancé are planning their wedding for 2015, so we did not want to schedule then. We have relatives that live out of state, and want them to share in our special day with us. We were just at a family celebration yesterday, and the amount of support we receive from our family is amazing. They are all totally appalled at the Allegheny County’s decision to insist we be married so quickly. March of 2016, gives us time to heal from our current physical issues, save money, have all of our legal matters dealt with, and gives our relatives time to plan vacation time to come visit Pittsburgh and celebrate with us.

How did you find out about the changes in County policy? What was your reaction?

I actually heard it first on WPXI. The story broke and it did not give a deadline, it just said something to the effect of proving marriage was completed this summer. It was not until the following day, that we heard the July 31st deadline. We never did receive any email or mailing which the news mentioned as being a way to tell their employees.

 The stress of this crisis has been rather unbearable to us.

What are you going to do? How will this impact your planned healthcare and your wedding plans? (Eileen responds.)

We aren’t quite certain what to do honestly. Some people say just go get married at the Courts and then celebrate later. I ask, Why, should we be forced to do this? Not to mention in such a short time? Part of my disgust is the fact that same-sex couples just celebrated throughout Pa., that finally we can get married. Now, a month later Allegheny County employees are being treated with no worth in regard to their unions! Do it the county way or else.

It’s our special day. How many County officials planned their weddings in 34 days? I want our day to be perfect and give my partner the day that she deserves to remember forever!

I was married previously, to my ex husband in a ceremony at the Justice of the Peace and it was in all honesty a marriage when I was too young. I was pregnant and we tried to make the right decisions at the time.  In all honesty, I feel as though that day in my life was just a formality. It wasn’t special. We didn’t even have friends there. It wasn’t the wedding that you grow up dreaming of. My parents did have a family celebration for us after the fact a few weeks later and while it was wonderful to be surrounded with family, it wasn’t what I dreamed a wedding I had planned would be someday. I realize I made wrong decisions in my personal life and own that. I am blessed with three beautiful children and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Obviously, l grew and realized many years later, that I was being untrue to myself and who I truly was. Three children, and many years later I decided to be brave and be true to myself and live my life as the gay woman I always knew I was. I was very lucky  years after that life changing decision, to meet my partner, and I want our wedding day to be the day that she always dreamed of. I don’t believe a municipal government should take that away from her.

I feel like they are telling us , Hey you have 32 days now, send out a FaceBook invite for your wedding, hopefully people will respond and too bad for folks not on social media; forget about the out of towners who have no time to be here! (since there’s no time to plan a formal invite). I suppose they think we should just go to Walmart for chicken and a sheet cake, ( since there is no time for planning with a caterer or a baker) Have it in our backyard which is under construction or perhaps rent a pavilion in a County Park, ( if any are available).

Don’t take a honeymoon, because my partner is recovering from knee surgery at the moment and I obviously am not in the best health either!

You are supporting a petition asking the County and other  municipal employers to keep domestic partner benefits in place until the Commonwealth adds non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Why are you supporting this petition?

I believe that non discrimination is vital to make everyone in Pa. feel as though they live in a safe supportive Commonwealth. It’s frightening to know that once my partner and I get married or even if we aren’t married can travel to Cranberry (for example)  to meet a friend for dinner, we can be totally discriminated against just for being us, two people who love one another. We can be refused service. If we got attacked, it wouldn’t be considered a hate crime either!

If a person wants to rent a property from someone outside of our County, they can be refused based on gender identification/expression, sexual orientation. I have friends that live in Butler county that live two lives, just to maintain employment. It’s the year 2014, this all just blows my mind. When will it stop? I am fighting this battle not just for us, but for future generations! I want a safe world for my grandchildren and their friend to grow up and live and love in peace and fearlessness!

There are fewer than 100 same-sex couples registered to the City, County and Pittsburgh Public Schools. Why should this matter to anyone else?

I feel very strongly that now that Allegheny County has set this mandate into action, the momentum will gain. Now
that the County is issuing this deadline to be married or lose your benefits, it will roll over to the City of Pittsburgh employees. I believe once that happens most other employers that offer domestic partner benefits will do the same until it is a unified decision across the state.

July 31 is your deadline. If the County is willing to reconsider, how soon do you need to know?

I believe that they should tell us as soon as possible. The stress of this crisis has been rather unbearable to us. A fair and reasonable deadline where we are treated equally, and we know that out friends in neighboring counties throughout Pa can live their lives knowing they have protection to be who they want to be!

Thank you for sharing your story, Eileen.

What would you do if you had two major surgeries scheduled and found out you have to get married to keep the insurance that will pay for both?

If you’d like to lend your name to the mentioned petition, please do so here. 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: My partner is an employee of the City of Pittsburgh and I receive health insurance benefits through her. We have no idea what is happening with the City in spite of multiple inquiries by me since decision day (and even a meeting as far back as November 2013 with Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin.) So now I’m rushing to cram every single appointment possible in to the immediate future – just in case. It is not easy to get appointments in 30 days. Or to live with the uncertainty of knowing when your benefits end. Or having to publicly explain WHY you aren’t getting married or other personal details. I applaud Eileen for sharing her story. We deserve better than this.

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  • While this is horrific- the timing of the decision and the end of benefits is terrible, I wish there was discussion of why the options offered by the Affordable Care Act aren’t being discussed. I get what stress this is causing, and no couple should have to go through tht, but at the same time, is it as utterly bleak as it is being painted? My hope is the petition and support being shown will cause the County to adjust ther timetable for the change. That is the right thing to do for those same-sex couples.

    The other piece of the puzzle missing is how this is possible given the collective bargaining agreements between the County and various unions like the SEIU. These bargaining agreements were one of the things that supposedly slowed down passage of domestic partnership benefits in the first place. It seems ridiculous that the County could so easily simply announce they are eliminating them.

    • Tom – I was just on the phone with someone from PHAN (Pennsylvania Health Access Network) talking about the Affordable Care Act in this situation! I’ll be posting tonight or early tomorrow. It seems that giving people a deadline of July 31 for benefits to end on August 1 is problematic among other things.

      The union contracts are interesting. The SEIU simply told me that the affected employees should contact their steward, no other comment. It is very unclear how many unions actually have dp benefits.

      I’ve also read in the Philly Gay News that their City Council has to vote to change the domestic partnership law. It isn’t just something the executive office can change. So there are several interesting threads.

        • Good points. My understanding is that Pittsburgh offers benefits to opposite sex partners, but I’m not 100% clear. Certainly allowing more time to revisit and reshape policy allows for that information to come to light for a critical examination.

          You wrote “I also wonder, but have nothing to support this idea- that the County and City may have political agendas as well. If every effort is put forward to get as many couples married as possible it helps the movement overall. Am I too jaded to think there is a pure political agenda at work here?”

          The big mystery here is WHY Rich Fitzgerald made this decision and WHY now? There’s no cost savings for either employer to reduce the number of covered individuals by less than 1% because they are purchasing plans using group rates (and because people can reenroll by marrying thus eliminating any savings.) So no fiscal reason. In fact, changing policy creates more expenses, correct?

          What is a viable political motive? This certainly isn’t consistent with any progressive agenda that I’m aware of. It doesn’t create more equality. It doesn’t enhance the region’s image. It doesn’t seem likely that a group of disgruntled heterosexual unmarried employees have rallied in a month to create a significant lobby. Who stands to benefit by this policy change? Not the taxpayers.

          I’m quite curious about this.

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