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Health insurance might end soon for family of fallen El Paso County sheriff's deputy

February 13, 2018 Updated: February 15, 2018 at 4:06 pm
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photo - Rachael Flick holds her daughter Eliana Flick, 7, at the memorial service for El Paso County Sheriff's deputy Micah Flick at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Saturday, February 10, 2018.

(Nadav Soroker, The Gazette)
Rachael Flick holds her daughter Eliana Flick, 7, at the memorial service for El Paso County Sheriff's deputy Micah Flick at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Saturday, February 10, 2018. (Nadav Soroker, The Gazette) 

At the Saturday funeral for slain Sheriff's Deputy Micah Flick, his widow, Rachael, told thousands of people that one of her first questions after learning of his death was: "How am I going to take care of my kids?"

If El Paso County doesn't act quickly, those children might not have health insurance.

County officials plan to extend health insurance for Flick's widow and 7-year-old twins, who otherwise would lose their medical benefits at the end of the month.

The county's health plan trust board, which reviews the medical benefits, is to decide Thursday whether to extend the Flick family's insurance, setting a precedent for any county employee killed on the job, said Nicola Sapp, deputy county administrator. 

Flick, 34, was shot and killed in a gunbattle with a suspected car thief Feb. 5.

The insurance dilemma isn't solved yet, but Sapp said the county aims to extend the Flicks' benefits for a year and cover the entire cost.

The deaths of Flick and two other Colorado sheriff's deputies killed in the line of duty since New Year's Eve have raised a new question that some agencies haven't had to answer in a long time: What happens to coverage for the family of a worker who dies on the job?

Agencies across the state handle that circumstance differently.

In Adams County, where Deputy Heath Gumm was shot to death Jan. 24, the families of such employees continue receiving health benefits until the spouse remarries or becomes eligible for Medicare, or when a child is no longer eligible. After the death, the county determines at the beginning of each fiscal year what portion of the premium it will pay, says a policy excerpt from Adams County.

Afer Douglas County Sheriff's Deputy Zackari Parrish was fatally shot Dec. 31, officials there opted to cover the cost of his family's benefits for a year after learning that the coverage otherwise would have been discontinued the next day, county spokeswoman Wendy Manitta Holmes said. Douglas County now is setting a policy with a similar protocol for future line-of-duty employee deaths.

A pending bill would extend coverage for up to one year for any state employee - including Colorado State Patrol troopers - killed on the job. Such coverage now ends the first day of the next month after the death. The new measure would require the agency that employed the deceased to pay for the extension.

Trooper Cody Donahue's family was left uninsured days after he was hit by a food truck while working an accident scene on Interstate 25 near Castle Rock. He died Nov. 25, 2016, and his wife and daughters lost coverage that Dec. 1.

"I felt punched in the gut," his wife, Velma Donahue, told Colorado Politics last week. "The funeral hadn't even been completed yet."

The bill sponsors are considering how to create similar protections for employees of towns, cities and counties. But lawmakers need more research on how different counties handle such deaths.

"We are happy to talk to the counties about this," one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Beth Martinez-Humenik, R-Adams County, told Colorado Politics. "We have 64 counties. They all do things differently, and we need to find out if any of them are already doing something."

Other states have penned similar measures. A bill recently introduced in Iowa would allow the spouse of a fallen peace officer to stay on the health plan of the employing agency for up to five years. A bill pending in the Indiana General Assembly would require employers to cover the cost of benefits for the families of public safety officers killed on the job.

After Police Officer Garrett Swasey was killed in the Planned Parenthood shooting Nov. 27, 2015, his employer, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, chose to cover his family's benefits an extra month, said Anja Wynne, executive director of UCCS' human resources. Beginning in 2016, any dependents on Swasey's plan could continue the insurance, but UCCS no longer would pay the premiums, she said.

When a Colorado Springs city employee dies on the job, the city pays for the family's insurance for 90 days. The family then can opt to pay their premiums and stay on the plan for up to three years. Over the past 15 years, three city police officers have been killed in the line of duty.

But the county hasn't had to address such a death in decades.

The most recent job-related death the county could cite was in 1992, when Sheriff's Deputy Hugh Martin was shot in the chest during a raid on a drug dealer's home. Information on the ensuing insurance was not immediately available, said county spokesman Matt Steiner.

"It's a sad circumstance that nobody on this board or the staff had ever dealt with before," said county commissioner Mark Waller.

Waller said he's confident the county can act quickly to extend coverage for the Flicks.

"It was incredibly unfortunate that this plan was structured the way it was, but we'll fix this and get it right, because it's the right thing to do," he said.

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