Draft rule opens long-term care, leave programs to domestic partners

Citing changing demands on families and the need to recognize diversity, the Office of Personnel Management proposed regulations on Monday opening up the long-term care insurance program and certain leave programs to the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian federal employees.

"With America's changing demographics and socioeconomic trends, employees have increasing personal needs and family care obligations," Jerome Mikowicz, deputy associate director at OPM's Center for Pay and Leave Administration, wrote in the draft leave regulation. "OPM believes it is important to address the needs of a more diverse workforce. By ensuring consistent policies within the federal government we set an example as the model employer of a diverse workforce."

The draft regulations implement President Obama's June 17 memorandum expanding benefits available to the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian federal employees. In that memo, Obama also directed OPM to oversee agency-by-agency reviews of policies that could have disparate impacts on gay and lesbian federal employees. The results of those reviews are due to chief human capital officers on Sept. 15.

The proposed long-term care regulation would add same-sex domestic partners to the list of relatives eligible to enroll in the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program. Currently, that list includes spouses of heterosexual federal employees; their parents, step-parents or parents-in-law; and their adult biological, step or adoptive children.

The draft leave regulation would allow gay and lesbian employees to take sick, voluntary or emergency leave to care for domestic partners, and would define domestic partners as "immediate relatives" under the rules for taking leave for funerals.

The long-term care rule would not provide access to these benefits for heterosexual domestic partners of federal employees, but the leave regulation would extend certain categories of time off to opposite-sex partners, too.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees union, praised the regulations, but said she still would like to see Congress pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. President Obama has said without that legislation, his administration cannot give the partners of gay and lesbian federal employees access to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Obama has endorsed passage of the bill and supports a repeal of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from treating same-sex relationships the same way as heterosexual marriages.

Leonard Hirsch, president of Federal GLOBE, an affinity group for gay and lesbian federal employees, said OPM was doing the right thing in conducting a detailed agency-by-agency review of other policies affecting gay employees. Such a review is necessary, he said, because authorization and appropriations laws have imposed a patchwork of restrictions on agencies, and OPM needs a clearer picture of existing regulations before it can adopt strong governmentwide policies on issues such as relocation benefits.

"These are big issues that have to be thought through and worked through," Hirsch said. "It's a lot more complicated than it appears in common parlance."

Comments on both regulations are due by Nov. 13, and can be submitted at Regulations.gov. Comments on the long-term care regulation also can be mailed to:

John Cutler, Senior Policy Analyst, Insurance Policy Group
Strategic Human Resources Policy, Office of Personnel Management
1900 E Street, N.W., Room 3415
Washington, D.C. 20415
Comments on the leave regulation can be mailed to:
Jermoe D. Mikowicz, Deputy Associate Director
Center for Pay and Leave Administration
Office of Personnel Management, Room 7H31
900 E Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 02415
CORRECTION: This story initially mischaracterized who would be covered under the proposed regulations. The long-term care program would only be open to the partners of gay and lesbian federal employees, but the leave regulation would extend certain categories of time off to opposite-sex domestic partners as well.
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