Skip to main content

UW: Cautious optimism on domestic partner health insurance

February 23, 2009 By John Lucas

UW-Madison administrators are expressing cautious optimism about the inclusion of domestic partner health insurance benefits in Gov. Jim Doyle’s biennial budget plan.

In his Feb. 17 budget address, Doyle unveiled a provision that would allow domestic partner health insurance for all state workers, including all UW–Madison faculty and staff.

The provision would give some legal protections to same-sex domestic partners, including allowing them to take workplace leaves to care for each other; to make end-of-life decisions and visit each other in the hospital; and to inherit property, autos and life insurance benefits. It would allow state workers, including UW–Madison employees, to add their partners to state health insurance coverage.

Domestic partner health insurance have been a long-standing goal of the university’s, for reasons of equity and competitiveness. The university remains the only institution in the Big Ten not currently offering partner benefits.

“We are heartened by the governor’s reintroduction of domestic partner benefits in this budget proposal,” Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin wrote in reacting to the governor’s proposal. “The ability to offer these benefits will allow us to improve our competitiveness for faculty and staff.”

There is much work to be done in the coming months, says Steve Stern, vice provost for faculty and staff services and campus point person for the issue. Inclusion in the governor’s proposal alone does not guarantee passage.

“We are committed to working inside the legislative process and ask members of the campus community to remain engaged as it moves forward,” Stern says.

In the coming weeks, UW–Madison will support the plan by creating a briefing paper for interested members of the campus community, sending a letter from Martin to members of the legislature and conducting one-on-one meetings with legislators. Students are planning a Library Mall “Day of Action” on Wednesday, March 25, to lobby members of the legislature.

As part of the legislative process, the budget will go through a series of public hearings before being considered before the Joint Committee on Finance, Assembly and Senate. Eventually, the budget will reach a final stage of negotiations in a conference committee made up of members from the two legislative houses.

According to UW System figures, the costs of authorizing benefits are relatively small, compared to their campus impact and would finally place the university on equal recruiting and retention footing with peer institutions and many major Wisconsin companies.

Should members of the campus community want to express an opinion on the proposed budget, including the issue of domestic partner benefits, individual contact with legislators is encouraged, provided that it takes place on personal time, using non-university resources, according to Stern.

During the last decade, the university has taken numerous steps, both publicly and privately, to work with the state to enact change on the issue. For years, UW System has been in agreement with UW–Madison and has included domestic partner health insurance coverage in its compensation plan recommendations to the state.

A number of offices and individuals, including the provost’s office, the Office of Human Resources, Administrative Legal Services, the Office of the Chancellor (including UW–Madison state relations staff), the Office for Equity and Diversity, and shared governance groups have worked as part of a task force seeking benefits.

The university also has a Web site collecting statements, documents, news clippings and information to help the campus community to track the issue through the budget process.