Kaine plan would extend health benefits to same-sex partners

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 4, 2009

RICHMOND -- Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has directed his staff to begin putting into effect a proposal that would allow same-sex partners to be covered under the state's employee health plan.

The incoming governor, Robert F. McDonnell (R), who has sparred with Kaine (D) on gay rights issues, expressed concern Thursday about the potential cost of the proposal but did not criticize what is expected to be a controversial one.

"My first question is, what [is] the cost to the state by expanding those policies?" McDonnell said at a news conference at the state Capitol. "I am all for using business -- public and private -- to expand health-care coverage. . . . But what I don't know is, what is the cost that has to be borne by the state government versus the individual new subscriber?"

The proposal, which comes weeks before Kaine leaves office, would expand benefits to qualified adults who live in the same house as an insured state employee. Those adults could include heterosexual and homosexual partners, roommates, children and other family members, such as an aunt or grandfather.

Sara Wilson, director of the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, said officials hope to offer the expanded benefit at no additional expense to the state because employees would be required to pay the entire cost. She said that state officials have been discussing the proposal for months but that she was not directed until mid-November to begin implementing the change.

Wilson said that a change of this magnitude would take about 18 months to implement, well after Kaine completes his four-year term Jan. 16. That would leave McDonnell to decide whether to continue the program.

Wilson referred questions on timing to the governor. Kaine spokeswoman Lynda Tran said that he "will continue to make proposals and take actions relevant to the welfare of the Commonwealth until he leaves office."

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said that Kaine, who serves as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is a "political animal" and called his timing suspect.

"He gets to throw a bone to his base and then create a land mine for the incoming administration," Griffith said. "It may be totally innocent, but to change a policy in the last month of administration calls it into question."

Kaine and McDonnell clashed on gay rights in 2006 when McDonnell, then the state attorney general, advised Kaine that he had overstepped his constitutional authority when he outlawed bias against gays in state hiring.

Tran said the proposal is "in line with actions [Kaine] has taken throughout his time in office to expand health-care coverage for Virginians and generally improve health outcomes."

Eighteen other states provide benefits to adults other than spouses, and 10 provide benefits to domestic partners with no distinction between couples of the same or opposite sex, Wilson said.

In the Washington region, Maryland offers benefits to same-sex partners; the District, to domestic partners.

At the news conference, McDonnell also announced his first administration appointments. He named Chief Deputy Attorney General Martin Kent as chief of staff, Deputy Attorney General Marla Decker as secretary of public safety, lobbyist Eric Finkbeiner as senior adviser for policy and spokesman Tucker Martin as communications director.

McDonnell said he asked Kaine's finance secretary, Ric Brown, to continue to serve for an undetermined period while the state wrestles with a budget shortfall.

Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.

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