Commission Reviews Spousal Health Coverage Dilemma

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-More than a dozen widows who were married to retired Madison County employees saw their health insurance coverage dropped earlier this year, and one county commissioner now says it’s time to give it back.

The change was sparked by the new federal health care law, but whether or not coverage can actually be restored remains unclear.

Madison County Commissioner Roger Jones said no one realized just how much the new federal health care law would change things, especially for the spouses of some of his former employees.

“What I’m trying to do is get this coverage back to them,” said Jones. “A lot of these people are on fixed incomes. Some of them are living on Social Security and very little else, and health insurance is very important to them.”

The widows who were dropped in January had always been covered under the county’s old self-insured health care plan. But officials told WHNT News 19 that the program had to be abandoned when they were informed that new mandates in Obamacare would amount to an extra $25 million per year, money that Madison County Chairman Dale Strong said the county simply doesn’t have. Instead, commissioners decided to join a statewide insurance network that 50 other county governments also participate in.

“In joining with this large group, it does not provide for spouses when their husbands die or their wives die,” said Strong. “So that’s where we are, how do we do this.”

Commissioners reviewed their options at Wednesday’s work session, but a clear answer has yet to emerge. Jones said he’ll continue to push for reinstatement, but Chairman Strong said other factors will have to be considered.

“The thing I’m wanting to know is, is this a common practice with the corporate world, is this a common practice within the state of Alabama,” said Strong. “While I want to do what’s right for the employees, I also want to do what’s right for the taxpayers of Madison County.”

Widows of retired county employees still receive 18 months of Cobra coverage after their regular health insurance coverage expires.