As of this year, the University of Richmond will no longer provide domestic partner healthcare in its benefits program, and will have a spouse-only healthcare policy.

Since 2004, the university has offered same-sex partner healthcare to faculty and staff members. This benefit gave UR employees within the LGBTQ+ community the ability to provide medical insurance to a significant other without being legally married.

UR first began providing same-sex partner benefits because gay marriage was illegal, said Carl Sorensen, senior associate vice president of human resources. 

“Their unions weren’t recognized,” Sorensen said. “They may have been in some states, but they weren’t recognized nationally.” 

Sorensen said that deciding whether to keep same-sex partner benefits had been a discussion since 2015, when gay marriage had become legal in the United States. 

UR has also never provided benefits to opposite-sex partners, he said. 

The benefits committee considered the question of whether to extend domestic partner benefits during both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years.

“We have to think about all of the benefits together and trying to manage those costs together,” Sorensen said. “Our choices weren’t to keep same-sex partner benefits or spouse-only benefits. We saw that our choices [were to either have coverage for] spouses only or all domestic partners, same and opposite sex.

“If we included all partners, it was going to create more cost pressure on our benefits because it was going to expand the pool,” he said.

Employee benefits at UR are budgeted to account for approximately 14% of the university's total 2019-20 budget, with health insurance being the largest portion of the employee benefits program, according to David Hale, executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Sorensen said the benefits committee could not specifically determine the increase in cost of healthcare at UR if it included all partnerships. 

“It’s impossible to know who would join,” Sorensen said. “We did know that it would be more [costly] than it is. And, it would only grow.”

UR also created a policy to help incentivize couples to get coverage from a different employer, Hale wrote in an email. 

“Effective Jan. 1, 2019, we also implemented a spousal surcharge designed to create an incentive for spouses who have coverage from another employer to move off the University’s plan and onto their employer’s health plan, thus reducing the number of people covered by our plan and the associated health care expenses,” Hale said.

Whether benefits should cover partnerships is a dialogue that is being prompted in many other small liberal arts colleges, said Lee Dyer, associate director for LGBTQ campus life. 

Dyer said about half of the institutions had chosen to expand partner benefits, whereas half had done something similar to UR, making a spouse-only healthcare policy. Yet, implementation of all-partner benefits at other institutions has not been the most effective, Dyer said.

“When you move to a plan that has domestic partner benefits regardless of gender and orientation, there is a lot of documenting and policing that goes behind it,” Dyer said. “One thing UR has been good about is not policing people about their insurance.”

Dyer wishes there had been more collaboration among university members regarding decisions that impact UR, such as whether to include partner benefits. 

“Sometimes there is not enough transparent communication on certain issues,” Dyer said. “Because [institutions across campus] are siloed, it just seems like, ‘They’ve made a decision without input that’s affecting me. But where was the person like me to give the input for the decision?’”

Sorensen said that within the benefits committee, he had worked alongside a faculty member of each school, four active employees, one retiree and Hale. 

UR would not add partner benefits in the foreseeable future, Sorensen said.

“I don’t want to say that it is never a possibility,” he said. “If circumstances change in the future, we may make a different decision. But, we didn’t make this with the intention of revisiting it again. We made this decision.”

Contact international editor Olivia Diaz at olivia.diaz@richmond.edu.