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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Michigan Civil Service Extends Healthcare Benefits

It is safe to say that healthcare and the availability of benefits are important to all working people in Michigan.  Nothing wreaks havoc on our day-to-day life more than an unexpected illness, especially when we lack the healthcare benefits necessary to secure the proper treatment.  

A recent decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals held that the Michigan Civil Service Commission (MCSC) could expand the eligibility of health care benefits for state employees to their co-residents, if those persons are at least 18 years old, NOT relatives, and have resided within the same household as the state employee for at least 12-months (but not as a renter or tenant).  

This potential coverage expansion applies to employees who do not have an eligible spouse. Thus, the coverage would apply to boyfriends, girlfriends, and/or same sex partners, as long as they meet the criteria for coverage.

The issue arose when the MCSC allowed for the additional healthcare coverage, and the Attorney General sued on the basis of a violation of Equal Protection; the expanded coverage discriminated against married state employees by excluding married employees from being able to cover non-spouses or other blood relatives. The Attorney General suggested that the policy was a way to circumvent Michigan’s “Marriage Amendment,” which prohibits the recognition of any “agreement” other than “the union of one man and one woman in marriage.” 

The Court of Appeals found the Attorney General’s argument unpersuasive and affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the case.  The appeals court held that the new policy, “does not in any way prohibit incidentally benefiting such agreements, particularly where it is clear that an employee here could share benefits with a wide variety of other people.”   The Court further explained that the policy does not, “depend on the employee being in a close relationship of any particular kind…beyond a common residence.”

Further, the Court of Appeals determined that the matter deserved a heightened standard of review, and as such, the policy is “rationally related to advance a legitimate state purpose.”  Specifically, the Court held that as the MCSC drafted the eligibility criteria after negotiating with the unions, “it is not the place of the courts to second-guess the wisdom, need, or appropriateness of the state action.” Lastly, the appellate court recognized the Civil Service Commission as having “plenary and exclusive authority” in setting eligibility guidelines for state workers, “because they are provided in exchange for services rendered by state employees.”

In sum, if you are an unmarried Civil Service employee, you may be able to provide healthcare benefits for anyone who has been living with you, as long as they have done so for at least 12 continuous months, they are not a tenant or renter, they are not a blood relative, and they are at least 18 years old.

Apparently, our court of intermediate appellate review does not wish to tread upon the authority of the state bureaucracy when it comes to providing health care benefits for its own.  We here at the Law Blogger think perhaps that is as it should be under our separation of powers.

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