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Parnell extends health coverage to survivors of troopers shot in Tanana

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- The survivors of the two Alaska State Troopers killed in the line of duty in Tanana don't qualify for continued health insurance coverage under state law. But Gov. Sean Parnell on Thursday directed the Department of Public Safety to fund continued coverage for the families of trooper Sgt. Scott Johnson and trooper Gabe Rich.

"While we will work next session to address the gaps in state law, I believe it is necessary to act immediately to secure health insurance for the survivors of these state heroes, who have given their lives to protect the people of the state of Alaska," Parnell said in a memo to Department of Public Safety Commissioner Gary Folger.

Coverage will also be extended to the survivors of trooper Tage Toll and longtime Department of Public Safety helicopter pilot Mel Nading, who died in a March crash while rescuing a snowmachiner.

Parnell said he only recently learned that coverage was not extended to the survivors of those killed in the line of duty. He said the department will work with the families of Toll and Nading to identify the coverage to be purchased, while the Johnson and Rich families will be covered under the health plan for public safety employees.

Johnson leaves a widow and three daughters, while Rich is survived by his fiancee and two sons.

Parnell said the health insurance would be paid for out of Department of Public Safety operating funds.

Parnell said the Alaska Constitution requires that public money be spent on a "public purpose" and that this insurance qualifies.

He also wrote that it is part of the mission of the Department of Public Safety to assure "its employees that their families' health insurance needs will be taken care of in the event that they are killed in the line of duty."

A supplemental funding request can be submitted to the 2015 Legislature, he said. The action is likely to receive across-the-board support, as will legislation to specify insurance as a survivor benefit for those killed in the line of duty.

Reach Dermot Cole at dermot@alaskadispatch.com.

 


By DERMOT COLE
dermot@alaskadispatch.com