Senator Lucio's Letterhead

CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 30, 2009
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385

Ensuring Health Insurance for Survivors of Law Officers

In 2007 a young wife and new mother grieving the death of her game warden husband who was murdered faced many decisions that included how to make a living.

As if these conditions weren't overwhelming enough, she learned that her health insurance premiums were going to increase from about $300 to over $1,000 a month. The state was demanding that she pay the cost that the employee normally pays plus the state's portion for the employee, her husband, Justin Hurst of El Campo.

Unable to afford these rates, Amanda Hurst began shopping around but kept getting rejected for a pre-existing condition because she had sought grief counseling for the her husband's death.

Although Mrs. Hurst's case is heart-wrenching, she isn't alone. Survivors of law enforcement officers throughout Texas continue to face such unfairness, which wasn't supposed to have ever occurred.

Working together with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), I passed a bill in 1997 that was intended to allow survivor families of fallen peace officers to continue purchasing their health insurance from their employers at the same rate the officers were paying prior to their death.

Many employers, particularly counties and municipalities, have complied with the intent of the statute. However, some have not, including the state of Texas.

CLEAT was shocked to learn that the state was forcing survivors of our law enforcement heroes to pay these outrageous health insurance premiums.

In essence, the Employee Retirement System of Texas is charging the survivors the family rate, the cost for two adults plus any dependents.

After learning of these situations from other survivor families, I decided to act as promptly as possible. This session, I've had the opportunity to file legislation clarifying that a survivor of a Texas peace officer killed in the line of duty may continue to purchase health insurance from the employer and at the rate paid by active employees.

Through Senate Bill 872, we are correcting a grave injustice to the families of those who put their lives on the line to protect ours.

This bill also changes current law that eligibility expires after a surviving spouse remarries or becomes eligible for insurance through another employer. Currently, once coverage is dropped, it cannot be regained. Even though there's no guarantee that the new marriage will last, a survivor is forced to either not remarry or drop the coverage. This is especially problematic when a child is involved. Furthermore, other insurance options should not preclude a person from continuing the deceased spouse's insurance, and the same should hold true for minor dependents.

Also contained in my bill are provisions requiring the employer to send a second written notice by certified mail to the eligible survivor no later than the 150th day after the officer's death, and it gives a survivor 180 days instead of just 90 to decide whether to continue with the same health insurance coverage.

This bill is simply about doing what's right for those who serve our state and its citizens with such bravery. Most of all, it lets the families of those who have died know that we honor their sacrifice, and that Texas will maintain its commitment to the families of these heroes. As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my Communications Director, 512-463-0385.

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