St. Luke’s University Health Network will offer equal benefits to legal same-sex spouses beginning in 2014, according to a news release from a civil rights organization.
The health network, which has nearly 9,000 employees and operates three hospitals and numerous other health facilities in the Lehigh Valley, is the second largest employer in the region.
"We are very pleased that St. Luke's is joining Lehigh Valley Health Network, Good Shepherd Hospital, Reading Hospital, Geisinger Medical Center, Temple University Health and many area corporations in granting equal spousal benefits to all its employees," said Pennsylvania Diversity Network's Executive Director Liz Bradbury.
According to the diversity network, St. Luke’s on Tuesday sent a communication to employees that said:
“In an effort to be more inclusive of the diverse nature of our employment population, St. Luke’s will begin offering same-sex benefits to benefit eligible employees effective January 1, 2014. A letter is being sent out to all benefit eligible employee’s homes today explaining this new offering.”
Now, all six of the Lehigh Valley’s largest employers offer equal spousal benefits, according to Bradbury, whose organization advocates for the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons.
In addition to LVH, those include Air Products, Giant Food Stores, PPL and the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.
The Pennsylvania Diversity Network has been lobbying St. Luke’s for nearly three years to change its policy, the release said.
Earlier this fall, Pennsylvania Diversity Network presented Ken Szydlow, St. Luke's vice president of media relations, more than 1200 cards signed by community members asking St. Luke's to extend equal spousal benefits to gay and lesbian employees.
“St. Luke's is not only doing the fair and equal thing,
but is now in a better position to encourage and retain the best employees in
their system," Bradbury said.
The communication St. Luke’s sent to employees also indicated that the insurance enrollment period would reopen from Dec. 9 to 20 for employees affected by the new policy.
The policy extends to employees who have been legally married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage and to employees who are not legally married but have been in a same-sex domestic partner relationship for at least one year.
Children of a same-sex spouse or a same-sex domestic partner, who meet
the dependent eligibility definition, are also eligible.
“Many employees will be positively affected by this new policy, not just for the benefits, but for the family medical leave an employee will now be able to take to care for a loved one,” Bradbury said.
Unmarried domestic partners who opt into receiving medical benefits should be aware, however, that the benefits are subject to federal taxes as if the benefits are income, Bradbury said. Same-sex partners who have married in a state where it is legal do not have to pay federal tax.