When trustees of Palm Beach Community College reached a tie vote in August on a proposal to offer health insurance for the domestic partners of employees, the measure failed and advocates for gay professors and other employees were disappointed. Because the college only pays for employees' benefits, the proposal wouldn't have cost the college a penny, but would have opened up quality insurance at a lower cost for the partners of gay and lesbian employees.
Now -- in a move that is seen as adding salt to those wounds -- the college has added a new health insurance benefit for some (unmarried) household members of employees: pet health insurance. All employees were told that they would get a 5 percent discount and group rates on a health insurance plans for their pets. A range of plans are offered, covering wellness care, vaccinations, X-rays, surgery and hospitalization (although pre-existing conditions may not be covered).
"Your pet is a member of your family -- his quality of life is important to you," says the promotional material from the veterinary insurance company.
While gay rights groups in the area stressed that they are not anti-pet, they said it was insulting for the college to offer a new benefit for canines and felines who are considered family members while ignoring human life partners of their employees.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council issued a press release declaring "PBCC Prefers Puppies to Partners." And a letter from the council, a local gay rights group, to college officials, said: "A PBCC announcement that employees could insure their pets being made a mere 90 days after the PBCC announcement that employees could not insure their domestic partners is an affront to PBCC employees with domestic partners."
"While many pet owners consider their dogs and cats part of their families, there is a basic disconnect when an employer will insure an employee's pet but not an employee's partner," said Deidre Newton, a graduate of the college who serves as vice president of the council.
College administrators have endorsed the idea of extending benefits to the partners of employees, but have yet to persuade enough board members. While officials could not be reached, they told local reporters that it was unfair to compare the benefits offered and denied, because they are categorized in different ways, and that the pet benefit did not require board approval.