Lawsuit Alleges Health Insurance Options for Nebraska Employees Discriminate Against Blacks
A lawsuit expected to be filed on Monday in the Lancaster County, Neb., District Court alleges that state employees living in predominately black ZIP codes were offered inferior health insurance coverage, the Columbus Telegram reports. The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of Sandra Cartwright, who works for the state Health and Human Services System in Omaha. Attorneys Vince Powers and Kathleen Neary are seeking to have the suit certified as a class action.
The state changed its health insurance packages this year by restricting employees' options based on where they lived. Employees living in one of three ZIP codes in Lincoln and Omaha, where 96% of the state's black employees reside, had a choice of two Mutual of Omaha plans and two Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska plans. Both sets of options offered employees inferior coverage, according to the lawsuit. Employees living outside of the three ZIP codes had the option of a "significantly better health insurance plan" from BCBS that offered more extensive coverage, more in-network doctors and access to certain national facilities, such as the Mayo Clinic, which the BCBS plan considered an "in-network facility," according to the lawsuit. By contrast, a Mutual of Omaha plan required members to contribute a 40% copayment for treatment at the Mayo Clinic and similar facilities.
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."
The lawsuit is based on several U.S. Supreme Court decisions and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination, according to the Telegram. The lawsuit seeks better health insurance for state employees in Lincoln and Omaha, and compensation for employees who paid higher premiums or had higher medical bills as a result 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 plan design is the same." According to Peterson, each state employee can choose from one of four health plan options and each plan has the same copays and deductibles. A spokesperson for State Attorney General Holley Hatt declined to comment on the case (Funk, Columbus Telegram, 11/4).