A growing number of employers now provide health insurance coverage for same-sex couples. Montgomery County is considering it. The Washington Post does it.
Reader Melissa Schraibman asks: What's keeping Uncle Sam?
"After reading your Oct. 25 column regarding childless couples' resentment against paying for family coverage insurance, I was once again struck by the reality of legal discrimination against gay and lesbian families. . . . I would be only too happy to be eligible to participate in a family plan.
"I have been a fed for five years and my partner works in the private sector. We . . . are registered as domestic partners in Takoma Park (Md.), where we . . . own a home together. Because we cannot legally marry . . . I cannot purchase a family plan to cover her.
"For several years she was a full-time student and was forced to pay for insurance out of her own pocket. Meanwhile, legally married federal workers enjoy benefits paid for in part by gay and lesbian federal workers.
"If I were to become unable to work or lose my job, her job does provide domestic partner insurance benefits. These benefits are of lesser quality than federal health benefits. Moreover, according to the tax laws, she would be taxed on the value of the insurance benefits I would receive, a significant tax consequence. A married person in her job would not be taxed on benefits to a spouse. I can't think of a more blatant example of continuing legal discrimination against a group of people in America."
Preexisting Medical Conditions
Reader Peter Mango asks: "My mother-in-law is a retired fed currently enrolled in the Mail Handlers health plan. However she is moving to a location that has very limited provider coverage. She would like to change plans but has been told by her personnel office that preexisting conditions would not be covered. . . . Would you please advise."
Answer: She may want to consider Blue Cross or GEHA if she decides to switch. More importantly, the personnel office was wrong. Under the federal health program, anybody can switch plans and cannot be denied benefits or coverage because of age or preexisting medical condition.
Overseas Pay Raises
From England, J. Bruce Parker writes: "Now that I work for the U.S. Army in London, I now don't get locality pay. My question is what do I get? Do I get the full 4.8 percent raise or do I sacrifice some of that so that locality pay can be given for the high-cost areas?"
Answer: Overseas white-collar federal workers (and those in Alaska and Hawaii) don't get locality adjustments. So if President Clinton earmarks 1 percentage point of the 4.8 percent "average" raise to locality adjustments, overseas federal workers will get a 3.8 percent increase in January.
Reader Jim Nardone is getting married next year. "I currently pay for a self-only health plan and am wondering what you suggest we do next year. My fiancee is not a federal worker."
Answer: Congratulations! You can sign up for family coverage any time you get married. You don't need to do it during a regular open enrollment period. Also, federal workers getting divorced can switch any time to a single plan.
Postal Bottleneck II
Reader complaints about long lines at the Bethesda and Washington Square post offices prompted Douglas M. Byrd to write: "I work at the Washington Square post office. I noticed that Edward C. [the complainer] mentioned that three clerks were 'working' at one station. That station has room for only three clerks. The Postal Store, according to Mr. C., had only one clerk working. The store has room for only two clerks.
"When Mr. C stopped at his supermarket on the way home he didn't complain or write the newspaper about long lines. When on the next day he went to the bank around the corner, you guessed it, not a peep. . . . The Washington Square office has the most dedicated, customer-oriented people I've worked with in my 30-plus year career. They have been learning a new system and it has been rough, slow going . . . but if your station is not big enough to accommodate the traffic in our area we didn't build it. We just work there."
Vontell T. writes: "I know you've received some wild questions, but I have to ask: Someone told my husband the government plans to remove two holidays--Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day--in the next couple of years. After you pick yourself up off the floor from laughter, please let me know if you've hard any such rumor?"
Answer: The Internet is full of even wilder, and false, reports. Bottom line: No federal holiday is on any hit list. Columbus Day and Thanksgiving are here to stay.
Mike Causey's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org