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Families of fallen police officers to inherit health insurance under bipartisan proposal

MADISON (WKOW) — After five Wisconsin police officers lost their lives in over a year, law enforcement groups are pushing to help the families of officers who’ve died in the line of duty.

Right now if an officer dies, families don’t inherit their health insurance. Instead, they have to apply for more expensive plans. Lieutenant Kelly Donahue of Madison Police said it’s a huge financial burden left on families after a tragedy.

“I’ve heard first hand, they lose their paycheck and until they can get their paperwork filed and benefits can be obtained a family might go a couple of months without income,” said Donahue.

Lt. Donahue is a volunteer for COPS (Concerns of Police Survivors) and also hosts a camp in Wisconsin for children who lost a loved one in the line of duty. She said often times spouses might not know they will lose coverage until it happens to them.

Under current law, families of fallen officers can apply for COBRA health insurance, a program which allows dependents to continue benefits if someone loses his or her job.

A bipartisan bill would provide insurance for spouses and their children by requiring employers to continue to pay health premiums. Then, municipalities would be reimbursed from the taxpayer-funded fire and police fund.

The bill applies to all police officers and those working at Marquette University and University of Wisconsin campuses. It would not apply to surviving spouses who remarry, are over 65 years old, and the child could not receive benefits if they’re older than 26.

Donahue said when similar legislation passed in 2009 allowing health insurance benefits to families of fallen firefighters, police didn’t know they were not included.

Sturtevant Police Chief and President of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association (WCPA) Sean Marschke urged lawmakers to take up this bill.

“This bill has broad support yet there are rumblings that it may die in a committee.  That would be a blow to law enforcement in Wisconsin,” he said.

Senator Van Wanggaard of Racine County is one of over 90 lawmakers supportive of this bill. As a bill sponsor, Sen. Wanggard says it’s likely to pass this year after making changes to how insurance would be paid for. He said an identical bill in the Assembly won’t be considered this year.

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