Voices of Alaska: Legislators should act for families of officers lost in the line of duty

  • By Sean Parnell
  • Saturday, May 14, 2016 5:14pm
  • Opinion

When I discovered during my service as governor that an Alaska State Trooper who was killed on the job, would not only leave a spouse and children, but his family would have their health insurance coverage stripped away upon his death, I took executive action to assure that the trooper family’s health coverage would continue.

To their credit, Governor Walker and Col. Cockrell, among others, have administratively assured health insurance coverage remains in place for these families who have given so much. Alaska legislators, in the final throes of the legislative session, should now make the statutory change so these families of fallen troopers (and families of other peace officers and firefighters in the future) do not have to worry about having their health insurance coverage ripped out from under them, whether by a change of personnel policy or a change in administration.

Senate Bill 202 can be carefully crafted to encompass only what is currently being paid out for these families’ coverage, giving the bill a ZERO fiscal note in the next fiscal year. The language should also provide for similarly situated family members in the future, but the fiscal note could show the out-years estimated costs as “indeterminate”—because they are. What does this mean? It means with existing health coverage in place for these families, SB 202 can be passed with zero fiscal impact this year because the state is already paying for it.

Legislators know this issue, they have seen the faces and heard the stories of surviving Alaska family members like Brandy Johnson and Nikki Toll. Rep. Charisse Millett carried the torch earlier this legislative session for these families, but due to procedural votes the House bill did not pass and later was withdrawn. Legislators could still rewrite and pass SB 202.

These families (along with others) have suffered great loss because their peace officer husband and father was loyal to his oath to protect and serve. Can we not as a State, in return, cover health insurance for these surviving family members?

Legislators could pass SB 202 with sideboards so when other health coverage is available to surviving family members through Medicare, for example (or perhaps through other employment), the state provides bridge coverage to that insurance. Perhaps legislators could consider utilizing the sideboards placed on the extension of health benefits to a surviving family of military service members.

Where a military service member is lost while on active duty, our nation continues to provide TRICARE health coverage for surviving family members for three years at the same level and afterward at the level of retired members. Other circumstances can affect TRICARE coverage, but the point is that the issue is solvable at the state level for surviving family members of peace officers and fire fighters.

Yes, I’m asking Alaska legislators to do “the right thing” by writing SB 202 well and passing it now. Legislators can help make the statement, “You will be taken care of” a true and honorable statement. Two different governors from two very different administrations have stepped up to the plate. Now, Republican and Democrat legislators alike also ought to join in supporting these families that have given so much for the rest of us.

Sean Parnell is a former Governor of Alaska (2009-2014).

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