By Shaun Boyd
Under current law, those families can lose their health insurance within days of losing their loved one.
Velma Donahue learned she no longer had insurance the day before her husband’s funeral, “I felt like I was punched in the gut.”
Trooper Cody Donahue died when he was hit by a truck on the shoulder of Interstate 25 while responding to an accident.
“Six days after he was killed before we had his funeral my daughter got sick. I took her to the doctor to be told after 11 years, I had no health insurance. It was very hard. It was very scary. I kept thinking, ‘Oh my God, what if something happens to me today? What if something happens to the children?’”
Donahue was stunned to learn health insurance for the families of state workers killed in the line of duty expires at the end of the month in which the employee dies. Her husband died Nov. 25, so his family’s benefits ended six days later on Dec. 1.
Colorado State Patrol Chief Matthew Packard says the employees have sacrificed their lives for the state and their families deserve to have insurance, “In the days and weeks following this, there’s a lot going on. The last they’re thinking about is whether or not they can take their kids to the doctor’s office on Monday. We need to do that for them.”
State lawmakers, including Rep. Polly Lawrence, a Republican representing Douglas County, agree, “We as legislators, representing people across the state of Colorado, need to be the first ones to step-up to say, that’s not right.”
Lawrence, along with Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Democrat representing Commerce City, and Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, a Republican representing Thornton, are sponsoring a bill to change the law.
“When someone’s going through grief, the last thing they’re thinking about is, ‘Oh, I got a letter I’m going to have to deal with insurance’”, says Martinez-Humenik, “They’re trying to get through the emotional situation they’ve been placed in.”
Under the bill, the state would cover benefits for the families a year after the employee’s death.
Moreno says the state has an obligation to back-up its fallen employees and their families, “It is important any public employee killed in line of duty maintain same level of commitment to their families.”
Donahue is fighting for the bill even though she won’t benefit. The bill will only cover those who die after it becomes law.
“I would not want to see anyone else go through it,” she says.
In the last five years, the state has had six workers die in the line of duty. The bill only applies to state workers, but lawmakers say after the deaths of three sheriff’s deputies in recent weeks, they are looking into what county governments do to cover their families’ benefits.
The bill passed out of its first committee.
Shaun Boyd is CBS4’s political specialist. She’s a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.