When law enforcement officers and firefighters die in the line of duty, their survivors may be left without health insurance. Three families of state troopers who died in the past three years have been covered under orders issued by Governors Sean Parnell and Bill Walker. But a future administration could change this. The families are looking for a permanent solution that will cover themselves and other survivors in the future. But there’s a debate over how that should happen.
When Nikki Toll’s husband, Alaska State Trooper Tage Toll, died in a helicopter crash in 2013, she quickly found out that health coverage for herself and their three sons was ending.
“His body hadn’t even been positively identified yet and we were without insurance,” Toll said.
She was able to purchase coverage through the Public Employee Retirement System. But — due to paperwork problems with her husband’s death certificate, she paid extra. She only received relief a year later. That’s when the shooting deaths of Trooper Sergeant Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich led then-Governor Sean Parnell to order that the survivors’ families receive health benefits.
Anchorage Republican Representative Charisse Millett introduced House Bill 66 to permanently provide these benefits to survivors.
But the bill stalled after it was referred to the House Labor and Commerce Committee.
Committee Chairman Republican Kurt Olson of Soldotna says the proposal needs to be considered more.
He says it’s not clear whether the federal law that regulates state-provided insurance allows for survivors to be covered. He also questions whether it’s legally appropriate to cover some survivors of public workers and not others. He noted that workers with duties other than public safety die while performing their duties.
Olson also says it may be more appropriate for troopers’ families to be covered through labor contracts, rather than changes in state law.
“If each of the bargaining units are looking for something like that, it should be something that will be negotiated,” Olson said. “And there are other ways that it could be addressed. For example, life insurance or annuities.”
Majority Leader Millett tried to insert the legislation as an amendment to the wide