Dependents of El Paso County employees killed on the job, including slain sheriff's Deputy Micah Flick, will continue receiving health insurance for up to a year at no cost, the board overseeing benefits decided unanimously Thursday.
Without the change, benefits for deceased employees' families, such as Flick's wife and 7-year-old twin children, would have expired at the end of the month.
"That was great news. It's been a worry for us for over a week," Sheriff Bill Elder said after the meeting. "It does give me some assurances that the Flick family will survive this long-term."
With the deaths of three Colorado sheriff's deputies since New Year's Eve, public agencies across the state have grappled with the question of what benefits should be afforded to families of employees killed in the line of duty.
After Douglas County Sheriff's Deputy Zackari Parrish was fatally shot Dec. 31, officials there also changed their policy. The county chose to cover the cost of his family's benefits for a year after learning that it otherwise would have been discontinued the next day, county spokeswoman Wendy Manitta Holmes said. Douglas County is in the process of finalizing a similar policy for future line-of-duty employee deaths, Holmes said.
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, according to a policy excerpt from Adams County. Part of the cost is covered by the county.
A pending bill would extend coverage for up to one year at no cost for the families of state employees killed on the job. Coverage now ends the first day of the next month after the death.
The county first began discussing a plan for health benefits after Colorado State Patrol Trooper Cody Donahue was killed in 2016, Elder said.
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, Colorado Politics reported. He died Nov. 25, 2016, and his wife and daughters lost coverage within days on Dec. 1.
The county hasn't had an employee die in the line of duty since 1992, when Sheriff's Deputy Hugh Martin was shot in the chest during a raid on a drug dealer's home.
The day after Flick died on Feb. 5, Deputy County Administrator Nicola Sapp said she contacted the county's benefits consultant to begin working on a plan. A special meeting of the county's health plan trust board, which reviews medical benefits offered to employees, was set for Thursday.
During the meeting, Elder, who serves on the board, thanked his colleagues for acting quickly following the tragedy.
The one year of free vision, medical and dental insurance will begin February 1, so the Flick family won't see a disruption in their benefits, Sapp said. During that time, the county will also cover any out-of-pocket medical expenses, such as co-pays, through its County Employees Health Reimbursement Account.
After a year, the family can opt to pay to stay on the same plan for another three years, Sapp said.
The change approved Thursday creates a special class of employee - one that dies while performing job-related duties.
Under county policies already in place, Flick's beneficiaries will receive a $40,000 death benefit and another $40,000 supplement because his death was considered an on-the-job accident, Sapp said.
His wife will also be paid workers' compensation, which provides two-thirds of Flick's annual salary tax free that end if she remarries, Sapp said. If the spouse does remarry, children will continue to receive the benefits until they are 18 or, if they attend college, until they are 21.
"You've got a wife and two young children who all of the suddenly have to be concerned with, 'How are we going to survive?'" Elder said after the meeting. "This gives us some of those answers."
The county is also researching options for handling Flick's retirement benefits, Sapp said.
Under the current plan, Flick's family would not see any of his retirement benefits for about another 20 years, Sapp said. And, because the county has "no reason to believe" Flick would have left the Sheriff's Office, he would have likely earned more for his retirement fund had his life not abruptly ended, she said.
The county's retirement board will meet Feb. 26 to discuss its options, Sapp said.
Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108