Families of fallen officers could continue to receive health insurance

Adrianna Pitrelli
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INDIANAPOLIS (Statehouse File) — While serving as a conservation officer for 30 years, State Sen. Michael Crider saw friends die in the line of duty and immediately wondered what would happen to their families.

“Early in my career, a DNR officer died in a plane crash at 27,” Crider said to the Interim Study Committee on Public Safety and Military Careers Tuesday. “He didn’t have extended health coverage so his wife was immediately on her own.”

Currently, some police forces continue health insurance coverage for immediate family if an officer dies in the line of duty. However, it isn’t mandatory and others who risk their lives daily, including conservation officers, are not protected.

State Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, gets ready for the chamber to open a session on January 22, 2013 (TheStatehouseFile.com/Zach Osowski)

During the 2017 legislative session, the Greenfield Republican authored a bill to provide health insurance to the spouse and children of a public safety officer who died in the line of duty. Public safety officials include police officers, conservation officers who work for the Department of Natural Resources, firefighters and others.

That legislation, Senate Bill 383, would have provided health coverage for spouses for the rest of their lives. It also would have covered all natural children, stepchildren and adoptive children until they turned 18. It would have extended that to 23 if they were still in high school or at an accredited college or university, and extended it indefinitely if the child had a physical or mental disability.

The bill died because of concerns about the cost, but lawmakers decided to send the issue to a summer study committee, which convened for the first time Tuesday.

“Our DNR officers are out there everyday by themselves,” said Leo Blackwell, general counsel to the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police. “Backup is sometimes hours away so when they confront someone, they must assume they have a weapon.”

Blackwell cited other instances when someone may die in the line of duty, including terrorist attacks or airport shootings.

“We have to think of the officers’ families,” Blackwell said. “The fiscal impact can’t be that great. If we had a catastrophic event happen like what happened to the Twin Towers, the impact would be huge, but there has to be a safety net.” Blackwell was referring to the rescue workers who perished when the World Trade Center towers collapsed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

While all members of the 14-person committee supported Crider’s action to take the issue to the 2018 legislative session, it didn’t come without questions of how it would affect the state’s finances.

A health coverage plan for a family costs about $17,000 a year, an amount some families who just lost a loved one can’t afford.

“These occurrence are fairly rare, thankfully, but the impact on the survivors are significant,” Crider said. “The families do receive some compensation as far as benefits, but this insurance issue is something that in today’s world can significantly impact families.”

Because only a handful of people die in the line of duty each year, Crider said, the fiscal strain would not be too large.

However, some members of the committee, like Rep. Chris Judy, R-Fort Wayne, encouraged Crider to make the bill retroactive so families who already lost someone in the line of duty would be able to get compensated for health insurance.

Retroactivity isn’t part of Crider’s current plan, but because of the suggestion and his desire to pass the bill, he said he will work to figure out how much it would cost.

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