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Insurance change sought for survivors of officers who die on duty

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A widow of an Indiana State Police trooper is speaking out and pleading for lawmakers to change insurance coverage for the widows of public safety officers who die in the line of duty.

Tuesday, there was a possible step forward to make that happen.

A group of lawmakers recommended the legislature pass a bill this winter to give those left behind health insurance coverage.

It would apply to a wide range of what is called public safety officers, all police and fire departments and even those working at universities and conservation officers. Basically it could allow immediate family members to keep their insurance and it would be paid for by the employer, such as the city, the university or the state.

When the hearts are heaviest for the family of a police officer or firefighter who dies doing their job, there’s a hole left in families emotionally and often financially.

“The insurance issue is something that in today’s world with the markets we have today can significantly impact their families,” said state Sen. Michael Crider, a Republican from Greenfield who said he plans on filing a bill this winter.

That was the case for Cynthia Winzenread. Her husband, Andrew, was a state police trooper. In 1997, a semi struck and killed him while he was helping a driver on the side of Interstate 74.

Cynthia was a stay-at-home mom with an infant and could only stay on her husband’s health insurance for two years.

“Losing your husband is devastating and then to have to worry about the financial expenses and you know that you don’t have anybody. You’re there on your own,” she said.

State officials said on average, one public safety officer dies a year in Indiana. It happened this summer. Southport Police Lt. Aaron Allen was shot and killed while responding to a car accident. Allen leaves behind two children and a wife.

“She has a 5-year-old that she has to raise and she doesn’t need to be worried about whether she needs to provide health insurance for him or not,” Winzenread said.

The state estimates it would cost about $17,000 per family.

“By golly, we have to take care of those surviving families if these people are going to put their lives on the line every day,” said Leo Blackwell, the attorney for the Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police.

There are still questions. One is whether this bill should apply retroactively. Some lawmakers are pushing for this change to help out families that have been struggling in the past.

But others say they’re concerned it would be way too costly for departments and cities to do that.