Dunnum v. Wisconsin - Profiles of the Couples

Document Date: April 19, 2005
Affiliate: ACLU of Wisconsin

Helgeland v. Wisconsin Profiles of the Couples

Robin Timm & Jayne Dunnum

Jayne and Robin, Wisconsin natives who have been together for 13 years, celebrated a commitment ceremony in 1992. Jayne has worked for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections for 15 years. Robin has a nursing degree and used to work as a public health inspector, but now she works full-time at “”Safe Home Farm”” on the couple’s 20-acre property in Platteville. They are godparents to four children from Milwaukee who enjoy visiting Jayne and Robin on the farm.

On their farm, named after an expression that Robin’s German-American great aunt used to say goodbye, Robin and Jayne grow asparagus, tomatoes, beets, squash, potatoes, and peppers, which they sell to a group of about 20 clients and at their local farmer’s market. Robin also makes vegetable oil soaps using herbs they grow on the farm and flower blossom syrup.

Because Jayne is unable to include Robin on her health insurance as her domestic partner, Jayne and Robin must pay more to obtain inferior insurance coverage for Robin. The health insurance premium for Robin’s coverage is significantly more expensive than Robin’s coverage would be if the State of Wisconsin permitted them to obtain insurance coverage for Robin as Jayne’s domestic partner. Robin now pays $270 per month for coverage with a $500 deductible. If Jayne were able to include Robin on her state health insurance, they would pay only $55 per month for both of them.

In addition to the extra cost that Jayne and Robin must shoulder, the benefits from Robin’s current insurance coverage are not as good as the benefits available under the plans the State of Wisconsin offers to employees and their spouses. For example, Robin’s insurance does not offer prescription drug coverage, while the state plan does offer such coverage with a low co-payment. Robin has a thyroid condition and regularly has to take prescription medication. Were Robin covered on Jayne’s health insurance, her medication would be available at a reduced cost. Robin’s insurance also has higher co-pays for a variety of services including emergency room treatment and the purchase of medical supplies.

Diane Schermann & Michelle (Missy) Collins

Diane, 42, and Michelle (Missy), 33, became friends after meeting at a softball game in 1999, but they didn’t become romantically involved until five years later. The couple had a commitment ceremony last year and lives in Eau Claire with Diane’s son and daughter from a previous marriage, ages 17 and 11. They are both licensed as family foster care providers, and Missy would like to become a full-time foster mom when she is better able to do so.

Over the past few years, Missy has faced a series of health problems. Diane’s job with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation provides Diane with health insurance, but Missy is excluded from that coverage, and the couple can’t afford health insurance for her even though she desperately needs it. Instead, she relies on a patchwork of free health clinics, workers’ compensation coverage, and emergency urgent care visits.

A back injury Missy suffered four years ago while working for a large building supply chain has left her with chronic pain, unable to sit or stand for prolonged periods of time. She was working part time until recently, but then her back was injured again due to repetitive stress.

The couple struggles to pay Missy’s medical expenses, sometimes doing without her $200-per-month prescriptions and waiting in long lines for hours in the cold to go to a free health clinic. Doctors have told Missy that she needs back surgery, but without insurance she and Diane can’t afford it. Recently the couple had to pay $1,900 out of pocket for an MRI and EKG. “Not knowing what medical treatment Missy will need in any given month, we have no way of knowing whether we’ll be able to pay all the bills,” said Diane. “The peace of mind that adequate health insurance would mean for our family would make a world of difference in our lives.”

Carol Schumacher & Virginia Wolf

Together 29 years, Virginia and Carol moved to Wisconsin in 1977 and live together in Eau Claire. Virginia, 66, is a former English professor and Unitarian Universalist minister. Carol, 51, works part-time as an elections specialist for the city. The couple, who were married in the Unitarian Universalist church in 1990, raised Virginia’s two children from a previous relationship together and are now proud grandmothers of two little girls.

As a retired University of Wisconsin – Stout staff member, Virginia has health insurance, but she can’t include Carol on the policy as her domestic partner. Instead, they’re forced to pay more for inferior insurance coverage for Carol. Although Carol has health insurance through the City of Eau Claire, she has to pay for 30% of the premiums herself because she works part time. Carol also has higher co-payments for prescription drugs, and the couple has to pay out of pocket for medication to treat Carol’s thyroid problem because it’s not covered by Carol’s insurance. In 2004, Carol and Virginia spent approximately $550 for Carol’s medication and co-payments.

Carol hopes to retire in 2008. If she can’t be covered on Virginia’s insurance after she retires, the couple will have to pay about $1,200 per year for a supplemental policy for Carol until she’s eligible for Medicare.

Eloise McPike & Janice Barnett

Together nearly 21 years, Eloise and Janice live in Milwaukee. Eloise, 51, has worked for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections for 20 years. Because of a car accident in 1996, Janice is only able to work part-time as a home-health nursing assistant.

Janice was in Tennessee visiting her brother at the time of the accident, which caused severe injuries to her right leg and shoulder that required several surgeries to repair. While married employees would have been able to leave work immediately under the state’s family leave policy, Eloise had to put in a formal vacation request and wait five days until it was approved before she could be by Janice’s side in Tennessee. The time away would have been considered family leave time for married couples, but Eloise was forced to leave her partner’s side after her five days of vacation were over, and Janice spent an additional three weeks in the hospital without Eloise.

As a result of the accident, Janice suffers from emotional problems. She also has high blood pressure. Until 2003, her medical care was covered by Social Security. Because she only works part-time, she doesn’t qualify for insurance from her employer. For two years, Janice was forced to go without insurance and couldn’t afford the medications she needed for her physical and emotional ailments. The couple finally scraped up enough money to pay $100 a month for a relatively inexpensive but inferior private insurance policy. Even with the coverage, Janice still has to pay more than $160 per month for prescription drugs and other co-payments.

The $260 per month the couple would save and the superior coverage state insurance would provide if Eloise were allowed to include Janice on her state health insurance would make a huge difference in their quality of life. But for now, they live with the uncertainty that Janice may not have access to adequate medical care should she be involved in another accident or develop a serious illness.

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