HCA, the nations largest for-profit chain of Hospitals (which was founded by Senator Bill Frist’s father AND in which the Senator has $26Million in HCA stock in a blind trust) has extended benefits to gay and lesbian employees. Company official Amy Stevens said, “We believe this move will give HCA a competitive advantage in attracting the best talent to our company.”

But if giving gays and lesbians equal treatment to attract the best talent, then how is it that Frist’s anti-gay remarks balance out?

After the Texas sodomy case was ruled Unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, Frist said that he worried if homes would be a place “where criminal activity” would take place.

On citing the biggoted need for an anti-gay amendment to the US Constitution, Frist said about any judge that may rule on the side of gays and lesbians, “Those judges are also intent on destroying the traditional definition of family.”

You can’t have it both ways, Senator.

Article archived here

Sunday, January 16, 2005
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

HCA HOSPITAL CHAIN: Benefits extended to gay partners

But policy change leaves out unmarried heterosexual couples

At first, the benefits handout to employees from their human resource staffs at Sunrise, MountainView and Southern Hills hospitals in Las Vegas created about as much buzz as patient complaints about hospital food.

It appeared to be the same ol’, same ol’, the kind of material insomniacs read at night to help them nod out.

But included was a listing for a new eligibility category that HCA, the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain, made available to its nearly 200,000 employees at 190 hospitals across the nation, including its three in Las Vegas.

Same-sex domestic partners were now eligible for benefits. And domestic partners of the opposite sex were not.

Enter buzz.

“Employees have been talking about it,” said Amy Stevens, a spokeswoman for HCA’s hospitals in Las Vegas. “It’s actually been very well received. We believe this move will give HCA a competitive advantage in attracting the best talent to our company.”

HCA is now part of the 13 percent of American employers who extend health care benefits to domestic partners. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, Stevens noted, reading from message points relayed to her by HCA’s corporate office in Nashville, offer benefits that include health and life insurance to domestic partners.

When the same-sex benefits policy was auditioned last year at an HCA hospital in Denver, Stevens said, the hospital was honored by the Denver Business Journal as one of the best places to work in that city.

“It’s a very positive thing,” said Stevens, adding that approximately four companies a day nationwide decide to offer similar benefits.

The HCA benefits go into effect this month.

A number of religious groups have opposed the trend, including the Southern Baptist Convention, which in 1997 called for a boycott of the Walt Disney Company because of its same-sex benefits policy.

Not all HCA employees in Las Vegas find the new policy agreeable.

“I see it as discrimination,” said an HCA hospital employee who asked for anonymity because she feared retaliation.

“We’ve been talking about it a lot,” she said. “We’re glad gays finally got the opportunity to get coverage for their loved ones. That should have happened a long time ago. But just because I have a domestic partner of the opposite sex doesn’t mean the company should discriminate against me.

“I’ve been very dedicated to this company and I now see them approving of one lifestyle over another. It’s obvious they think less of me than they do gays. I don’t know whether I’ll leave the company over this.”

According to a 2001 study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, an advocacy group for homosexuals, more than 90 percent of the more than 7,300 employers that offer domestic partner benefits make them available to both same- and opposite-sex couples.

Some HCA employees have speculated that domestic partner benefits have not been extended to opposite- sex couples because of cost.

Stevens said HCA, which is in the midst of a robust financial recovery from where it was in the late 1990s, is not offering domestic partner benefits to heterosexual couples “because they have the legal option to be married and choose not to be. Gays don’t have that choice.”

That argument, according to the HCA employee, doesn’t take into account the principle of equality.

If you believe in equal pay for equal work, the employee said, it shouldn’t matter whether employees are widowed, single, divorced, married or whether their domestic partner is a man or a woman.

The employee suggested there are valid philosophical, political, economic and religious reasons for not marrying.

Some women, the employee said, believe marriage has long oppressed women, so they opt for a partnership rather than matrimony. Women who have been divorced because of abuse are often reluctant to marry again. People of all ages with disabilities do not marry because an increased income may cost them government resources.

“There are all kinds of reasons why someone doesn’t get married, and it really shouldn’t be the company’s business,” the employee said.

Human resource specialists say benefits comprise nearly 40 percent of an employee’s overall compensation.

Studies have shown employers who offer domestic partner benefits across the board do not find the difference in cost to be significant. They’ve found that the enrollment-rate increases range from less than 2 percent up to 3 percent when including both same- and opposite-sex domestic partner benefits.

Employers’ insurance costs rise by a percentage slightly less than the enrollment increase because employers pay a smaller share of insurance costs for families than for individual employees.

HCA was founded in Tennessee by physician and conservative businessman Thomas Frist Sr. His son, Bill Frist, the U.S. Senate majority leader, has made public anti-gay pronouncements.

When the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 threw out a Texas law that prohibited acts of sodomy between homosexuals in their own homes — saying such a prohibition violates the privacy rights under the Constitution — Bill Frist said he worried the decision could make the home a place “where criminal activity” is condoned.

Bill Frist, who owns $26 million in HCA stock in a blind trust, also has expressed support for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Nevada, applauds HCA’s extension of domestic partnership benefits to homosexuals while hoping that HCA’s policy will evolve to include opposite-sex couples.

“We at the ACLU advocate for the most inclusive policy,” he said.

To qualify for benefits, domestic partners generally must demonstrate co-habitation for about six months, financial interdependence, which may include joint checking accounts, mortgage documents or leases or driver’s licenses showing the same address.

Dale Erquiaga, a vice president at the R&R Partners advertising firm in Las Vegas, applauds HCA’s move and hopes the company becomes more inclusive. In 2003, Erquiaga wrote the first draft of statewide legislation that has made it possible in Nevada for unmarried couples to have the same hospital visitation rights as their married counterparts.

Erquiaga, who is gay, said he understands why some HCA employees may feel discriminated against. He said his advertising agency recently put in domestic partner benefits for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

“I’m sure HCA will listen to requests of other employees,” he said. “Nobody wants to see more friction over sexual orientation.”

To date, only one private company has faced a lawsuit over its same-sex only benefits domestic partners policy. In 1999, a telephone company employee argued in a New York courtroom he was discriminated against on the basis of sex when the company denied health benefits to his live-in girlfriend. The judge ruled against him.

“The difference in the ability to marry … is material in the context of a compensation plan, which grants benefits to employees’ chosen partners,” the judge wrote.

Peck said being married or not married is not a protected class under the law, unlike age, race or gender.

Friction within the workplace over who has the opportunity to realize benefits isn’t going away anytime soon, according to Thomas F. Coleman, head of Unmarried America, a California-based equal rights organization.

“How people choose to live today is very different than the traditional view,” he said.

Statistics from the U.S. Census bear that out.

The traditional American family, two parents and one or more children under 18, represents only 23.5 percent of all American households, down from 45 percent in 1960.

Families headed by married couples have fallen from 55 percent in 1990 to 52 percent in 2000. The number of unmarried couples living together jumped 72 percent since 1990, from 3.19 million in 1990 to 5.47 million in 2000.

In 1997, Culinary Local 226 offered health and welfare benefits to domestic partners of gay union members, prompting some cries from employees who wanted benefits extending across the board.

How many Nevada employers offer benefits to domestic partners is unknown. Unlike California, government entities aren’t doing it. Neither the state of Nevada, Clark County or city of Las Vegas employees enjoy the perk.

“It really isn’t anything our employees are asking for,” said Victoria Robinson, manager of insurance services for the city of Las Vegas.

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By walterh

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