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CLGBTE Response to Concerns on Dependent Verification Process for Benefits, November 2, 2012

Many have reached out to the Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equity (CLGBTE) leadership in the last week, as news of changes to the Office of Human Resources (OHR) processes has slowly been making it to public ears. Beginning in January 2013, Penn State will ask all employees to verify the status of their dependents in regard to healthcare and educational benefits.

First and foremost, we want to assure everyone that we are confident and comfortable that the new processes in no way reflect a loss of ground on the issue of same-sex domestic partner benefits for the LGBT community. People are understandably concerned for themselves and their loved ones, and many have reacted strongly to the misinformation that has been circulating. We would like to provide some insight into the history and particulars of this new process as we see it.

The CLGBTE has been aware of the pending verification process for approximately a year, and has had two separate meetings with OHR on the topic. Most recently, members of the leadership team met with Susan Basso, associate vice president of the Office of Human Resources, and Robin Oswald, director of Employee Benefits, on Wednesday, October 31, to give input, and clarify the new procedure on dependent benefits verification, (as was announced later in the Penn State Live story <>)

We learned that verification requirements have not changed since OHR brought this topic to a full CLGBTE meeting last year for informed feedback, nor indeed has anything changed since the program's inception. That is to say, all parameters are the same as what the employee agreed to provide when the employee and their partner signed the “Affirmation of Domestic Partnership Form”:

We have at least two of the following (and can provide documentation if requested):

  1. Joint mortgage, lease, or title; or currently share the same residence and intend to do so indefinitely
  2. Designation of domestic partner as beneficiary for life insurance or retirement contract
  3. Durable property or healthcare powers of attorney
  4. Joint ownership of motor vehicle, joint checking account or joint credit account.

If your partner and family were eligible when you signed this form, and nothing has changed that negates your ability to satisfy two of these requirements, then they are eligible now.

There is also no real difference in the burden of proof between requirements for legally married couples and same-sex domestic partners. As there are no marriage certificates for domestic partners in Pennsylvania, the actual Affirmation Form itself suffices as proof of relationship. Additionally, one item from the above list would prove indefinite endurance of relationship, substituting for the tax documentation that legally married employees will have to supply.

Statistically, OHR expects that most of the noncompliance discovered will be inadvertent ex-legal spouse coverage on the group plan, as opposed to coverage via COBRA as the law requires when a divorce settlement mandates healthcare coverage. While this is a common blended family issue, it is not one that is directly linked to being LGBT, and we are confident that OHR is not targeting any particular segment of the University population in this process.

OHR shared a draft of the employee letters and documentation FAQ with CLGBTE leadership for additional feedback. These documents are very thorough and clear—not at all threatening. And we do hope that they are distributed soon to help allay fears and provide context. The verification process will start in January, so you need not have everything in hand before the open enrollment process. The agency that is contracted to perform the verification will actually provide guidance in procuring legal records if necessary.

To speak to the concern about a third party analyzing our personnel records, one perspective is that it might be considered more private overall. Co-workers will not have gained what some may consider to be an inappropriate access to private information through this process.

Many people have expressed surprise in regards to the timing and pace of this process. As we stated earlier, this topic was brought before us during the last academic year (2011-2012). All Commission members had an opportunity to bring up concerns; because the requirements were aligned directly with the Affirmation Form, and all Penn State employees are required to participate in this process, it appeared equitable and fair. It was the Faculty Senate that requested that this process be initiated during the open enrollment period this fall and not postponed until next year.

This week, we did provide frank feedback that the pace, method, and tone of communication on the part of OHR has been unfortunate. The well-intentioned solicitation of feedback from so many groups (Faculty Senate, local HR reps, USAC, etc.) seems to have put partial information out there via word-of-mouth before official, clear information was available to everyone. For instance, the Penn State Live news item does not explicitly address domestic partners and their children and more specific reference to verification for that population might be very helpful at this point. We encouraged OHR to distribute clearer information as soon as possible to reassure the LGBTA community.

In such an uncertain time for our University, this small task seems like a small price to pay for the peace of mind that Penn State is in compliance with state and federal policies and laws, and also to know that each employee is doing his or her part to keep healthcare costs manageable for all eligible families.
Susan Basso and Robin Oswald were already scheduled to attend our next full Commission meeting on November 15 and all are welcome to attend and get more information or express further concerns. Please see our website for further meeting details:

Cristol Gregory, Chair,
Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Chair-elect,
and Executive Committee CLGBTE 2012-2013