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CHARLOTTESVILLE — A student at the University of Virginia is calling on state officials to extend state employee health care coverage to same-sex partners.
UVa President Teresa Sullivan is one of many university officials, faculty and students who lent their support to a recommendation from graduate student Brendan Maupin Wynn, who sent a letter to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Tuesday.
The letter urges Herring to look into policies that would allow UVa — and other state entities — to provide coverage for the partners of gay and lesbian employees who do not already qualify for Medicare, Medicaid or have insurance through an employer.
State agencies do not provide coverage to same-sex partners because of an amendment to the state constitution, passed by voters in 2006, defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
In February, a district court ruled the amendment unconstitutional, but it’s still in effect pending an appeal. Wynn said it’s a major hardship for employees and their partners, and asked Herring to consider policies that could cover same-sex spouses during the appeals process.
“Needed policy changes could erase the difficulties these public-sector employees face every day, and are far less controversial than the marriage equality issue you have already tackled so early in your tenure,” Wynn wrote.
Wynn said state officials should consider a policy that would allow coverage of another adult living with a state employee. The University of Michigan has a similar policy, which was written to get around an anti-gay marriage amendment.
Jeffrey Trammell, rector of the College of William and Mary from 2011 to 2013, lobbied unsuccessfully to get the state to pass an “other qualified adult” policy during his time on the college’s board of visitors.
Early drafts of the regulation, pushed by Equality Virginia, specified that employees would bear the cost of extending coverage to a qualified adult living under the same roof.
“Ultimately, the constitutional ban is an unfair and discriminatory law, which is why it was struck down by the court,” Wynn said in an interview Tuesday. “While we await that appeal, there has to be something we can do to provide benefits for our employees today.”
The letter garnered more than 75 signatures from supporters, including former UVa President John Casteen, Provost John Simon, political science professor Larry Sabato and constitutional law scholars Douglas Laycock and Dick Howard.
McGregor McCance, a spokesman for the university, said Sullivan signed the letter personally, not as a representative of the university. But Sullivan has said in the past that the university’s inability to provide coverage for same-sex partners has hurt recruitment and retention.
“President Sullivan believes that the current laws regarding benefits for same-sex partners places the University of Virginia and public higher education in the commonwealth at a competitive disadvantage,” McCance said.
In January, the university cut benefits to the working spouses of employees, as long as those spouses have health care coverage defined by the Affordable Care Act as “affordable” and “minimal.”
Officials said the increase in costs associated with medical claims — which rose from $99 million in 2008 to $128 million in 2012 — as well as the projected $7.3 million price tag associated with the Affordable Care Act, necessitated the cut.
State officials say they support extending coverage to same-sex partners, but mainly are focused on the court battle over the amendment. Still, the offices of Herring and Gov. Terry McAuliffe both said they would consider a temporary policy fix.
Speaking for Herring, spokesman Michael Kelly said the amendment would be a major obstacle to providing coverage, but said the attorney general would work with schools to “find any options within the current law to provide the benefits they seek.”
But Kelly said Herring would defer to McAuliffe on the creation of an “other qualified adult” policy.
McAuliffe’s office is mulling the possibility of a policy change, said Rachel Thomas, a spokeswoman for the governor.
“The governor is committed to ensuring that Virginia is open and welcoming to all and believes that LGBT Virginians deserve the same rights and privileges as everyone else,” Thomas said.