Lawsuit: Health Insurance Options For Nebraska Employees Discriminate Against Blacks

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A lawsuit expected to be filed on Monday in the Lancaster County, Neb.,District Court alleges that state employees living in predominatelyblack ZIP codes were offered inferior health insurance coverage, the Columbus Telegramreports. The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of Sandra Cartwright, whoworks for the state Health and Human Services System in Omaha.Attorneys Vince Powers and Kathleen Neary are seeking to have the suitcertified as a class action.

The state changed its healthinsurance packages this year by restricting employees' options based onwhere they lived. Employees living in one of three ZIP codes in Lincolnand Omaha, where 96% of the state's black employees reside, had achoice of two Mutual of Omaha plans and two Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraskaplans. Both sets of options offered employees inferior coverage,according to the lawsuit. Employees living outside of the three ZIPcodes had the option of a "significantly better health insurance plan"from BCBS that offered more extensive coverage, more in-network doctorsand access to certain national facilities, such as the Mayo Clinic,which the BCBS plan considered an "in-network facility," according tothe lawsuit. By contrast, a Mutual of Omaha plan required members tocontribute a 40% copayment for treatment at the Mayo Clinic and similarfacilities.

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The Nebraska Association of Public Employees filed a grievance when the changes were made, but the grievance did not result in any changes to the plans, according to the Telegram. Union Executive Director Mike Marvin said, "We didn't believe they were equal."

Thelawsuit is based on several U.S. Supreme Court decisions and the 1964Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination, accordingto the Telegram. The lawsuit seeks better healthinsurance for state employees in Lincoln and Omaha, and compensationfor employees who paid higher premiums or had higher medical bills as aresult of their plan options.

Powers said, "Black citizens should get the same benefits as white citizens," adding, "I can't believe I'm saying that in 2007."

Laura Peterson, general counsel for the Department of Administrative Services,defended the state's insurance plans, saying, "We believe that the plandesign is the same." According to Peterson, each state employee canchoose from one of four health plan options and each plan has the samecopays and deductibles. A spokesperson for State Attorney GeneralHolley Hatt declined to comment on the case (Funk, Columbus Telegram, 11/4).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser WeeklyHealth Disparities Report,search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Weekly HealthDisparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of TheHenry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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