Columbus Partners Up

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

It's been a long time coming, but unmarried employees of the city of Columbus--gay and straight--are finally able to provide health coverage to their domestic partners and their partners' children.

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman was city council president back in 1998, when council first approved an ordinance extending benefits to the partners of gay employees. After opponents threatened a referendum, the city backed off and repealed the legislation.

In his state of the city address in February 2010, Coleman vowed he would return domestic partner benefits to the legislative agenda ("Partnering Up," June 2010). Council's ordinance, introduced in November, was approved with nary a peep from opponents.

At least one terminology wrinkle remains. Councilman A. Troy Miller, who sponsored the ordinance, says it offers coverage to "eligible dependents," because that's the term preferred by insurers. Coleman prefers the term "domestic partners," says spokesman Dan Williamson, "because that's what it is."

The ordinance authorizes dependent coverage for "an adult with whom the covered employee shares a permanent residence," and who is financially interdependent with the employee. Human Resources Director Chet Christie will require an employee to sign an affidavit stating that he or she has been in an exclusive relationship with the covered partner for at least six months, and intends to remain in that exclusive relationship.

Christie says in addition to being in line with the mayor's aim to provide coverage only for partners and their kids, the "exclusive relationship" requirement will save money. The city anticipates spending about $660,000 to cover an estimated 70 partners and 19 children. A broader definition of eligibility could have led to "three to four times the projected cost," Christie says.

Extending the domestic partner option to the city's 8,000 employees will make Columbus more competitive with other public-sector employers, such as Columbus City Schools and Franklin County, which already offer such coverage. "The city is now what you call ‘on par' with what's around us," says Miller. "From there, my goal is to make sure the city is one of the premier employers within Central Ohio."

Reprinted from the January 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.