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Bexar County to offer “plus one” benefits

Good for them.

Without referencing same-sex couples, Bexar County on Tuesday agreed to extend health insurance benefits to the unmarried companions of county employees.

The “Plus One Qualifying Adult” policy adopted by Commissioners Court attempts to circumvent legal roadblocks that bar the county from offering benefits to workers’ domestic partners. Modeled after an approach used in the private sector and adopted last month by El Paso County, the commissioners’ resolution avoids the terms that have brought challengers in San Antonio and Dallas.

The unanimously-approved proposal, which drew no public opposition, requires proof of the couple’s “financial interdependence.” A qualifying adult must have lived with the county employee for at least a year and must continue doing so to remain eligible, the policy states.

County Manager David Smith said it’s unknown how many of the county’s 4,000 employees might qualify for the extended coverage, or how much the benefits might cost taxpayers, but in El Paso’s first month under its policy, only one employee applied.

An added individual, who must be at least 18 years of age, must offer proof the county worker and the second individual share “common financial obligations.” Evidence of that relationship would be a deed or mortgage; vehicle title or registration; joint bank or credit accounts; designation as primary beneficiary for life insurance or retirement benefits; or assignment of a durable power of attorney or health care power of attorney.

Excluded from the program — at least for now — are the worker’s parents; their parents’ other descendants; their grandparents’ other descendants; step relatives; and a worker’s renters, boarders, tenants or employees.

Commissioners agreed to revisit the possibility of dropping those exclusions to possibly allow a parent to take advantage of the benefits, which include medical, dental, vision and life insurance coverage.

Randy Bear at The Rivard Report had a preview of the Commissioners’ action, which includes the background on that AG opinion, and has has a report from the Commissioners Court meeting where the benefits were formally adopted. I can add a data point to this, thanks to an email forwarded to me by regular commenter Mainstream. He had sent an open records request to the city of Houston asking how many employees had applied for health benefits for their same-sex partners after Mayor Parker decreed that they were included under the wording of the 2001 charter amendment that restricted such benefits to “legally married” employees. The response he got was that six employees had done so, out of 19,809 total enrollments. So while Bexar is taking a broader and more inclusive path, I think it’s reasonable to assume their added cost will not be substantial. I applaud them for doing their part to increase access to health insurance, and I eagerly await Harris County following suit.

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