October 26, 2011

University Extends Insurance Benefits to Opposite-Sex Domestic Partners

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Beginning Jan. 1, insurance benefits offered by Cornell will be extended to both same-sex and opposite-sex partners of faculty and staff members in the endowed colleges, the University announced Oct. 13.

Domestic same-sex partners have received benefits under University policy since 1994. The decision to extend benefit eligibility to opposite-sex domestic partners was made after the Marriage Equality Act, enacted in New York earlier this year, gave same-sex couples the same marriage rights as opposite-sex couples.

“We consider [domestic partnerships] families just as much as any other families,” Paul Bursic, senior director of benefit services, said.

Since the announcement, no couple has formally asked to enroll in the new program, but there have been inquiries, Bursic said.

Bursic said the decision was in part motivated by a desire to ensure that faculty and staff feel welcome at the University.

“In an effort to retain the best quality faculty, we need to be more inclusive so that families feel more welcome coming [to Cornell] and staying,” Bursic said. “It’s an extra benefit of coming to Cornell.”

Since Cornell is comprised of both endowed and contract colleges, there are two different benefits plans — one provided by the state of New York and one by the University. The newest extension of benefits to opposite-sex domestic partners only applies to the endowed colleges. Contract colleges previously allowed opposite-sex domestic partners to apply for benefits.

The Benefit Services Office does not have an estimate of the number of couples expected to register. However, Bursic said that the office has received a positive response from members of the community.

“We’ve gotten very good feedback about it,” Bursic said.

To be considered a domestic partnership, couples must “share a relationship based on mutual obligations akin to those of marriage,” according to the website of the Office of Human Resources.

Couples must be exclusive partners who share a financial responsibility — for example, a mortgage or lease — without being blood relatives.

Moving forward, Bursic said, Benefit Services might have to look at how many couples use this program.

“We feel pretty good about it,” Bursic said.

Original Author: Caroline Flax