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Palm Beach County Health District to Add Domestic Partner Benefits

An issue splits public governing boardís domestic partner benefits.

The Health Care District of Palm Beach County joined other local governments by adding the benefit to its 2008 health insurance coverage for employees. However, it came through a narrow 3-2 vote.

The district, funded by taxpayers, presents free or low-cost health coverage to uninsured residents, a point Commissioner Jonathan Satter used to argue for the benefit. The districtís programs cover about 20,000 people.

"This is the agency where one of its largest missions is to make sure everybody has coverage," he said. "Everyone should be entitled to health insurance, if it's suitable, and I believe it's suitable."

In August, Palm Beach Community College split its vote when it decided not to take in domestic partners in its health benefits. Adding domestic partners, who can be gay or straight, would not have added expenditure because the college does not pay premiums for employees' spouses or children.

Palm Beach County, although, has offered coverage for two years. The School Board similarly adopted domestic partner benefits in 2005, but teachers are not entitled.

For board members of the Health Care District, the debate focused on cost. Commissioner David Goodlett said he could not support domestic partner benefits or proposed vision coverage, as they would add to already rising health care costs.

Human Resources Director Jannis Muscato did not have a cost approximation for adding domestic partners but said it would not be significant. However, it is expected that about a dozen of the district's 750 employees would make use of it. Open enrollment starts in November, which stopped the board from delaying its vote.

"I feel uncomfortable because I'm going to have to go for all or nothing," said Rep. Richard Machek, D-Boca Raton, also a commissioner. Machek voted for the benefit after earlier saying he would vote no.

Goodlett and Chairman Stanley Pierce voted no, while Satter and Commissioner Effie Grear joined Machek in support.

Domestic partners have to be registered with the county clerk's office before they can get the benefit.



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