As gay marriage moves along a bumpy path toward broader acceptance and legalization, the impact is being felt in the world of health care and health insurance. Some companies, including Expedia, Walgreens, Target, Starbucks and Gap offer insurance benefits to same-sex couples even outside the few states where gay marriage is legal.
Mark Colwell, Marketing Manager of GoHealthInsurance.com answered my questions on the topic in an email interview.
Why have some companies started offering insurance to domestic partners? Do they face any complications in doing so?
There are now six states, almost seven if you include Washington, that will give marriage licenses to same-sex couples, compared to only one state in 2004. The tides are obviously turning and many companies started offering same-sex benefits in the 1990s. Right now private companies are ahead of the federal government by acknowledging the need of affordable health insurance for same-sex couples.
A company first has to decide whether they will provide domestic partnership benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex partners. Also some companies have started reimbursing couples for the amount they are taxed for the same-sex benefits. Right now, same-sex benefits are viewed as taxable income by the IRS (whereas married couples’ health benefits are not viewed as taxable income) which is a disadvantage of offering the benefits.
In states where gay marriage is legal, how does that affect beneficiaries of federally funded programs such as Medicare and VA benefits? What about Medicaid?
State laws regarding same-sex marriages do not affect federal guidelines.
Same-sex couples are not entitled to the same benefits under COBRA as married couples, which is a huge disadvantage if a partner is fired or let go from a company. Also as noted before, the IRS taxes same-sex benefits which is another big disadvantage to opposite-sex couples.
When it comes to Medicaid coverage, it will be greatly expanded over the next few years due to health care reform. The expansion will allow low-income individuals without children will be able to get Medicaid coverage – this will help many same-sex couples who do not have access to coverage or cannot afford it.
If a gay spouse travels out of state and needs treatment, are they still covered in a state that does not recognize gay marriage?
This situation would be more dependent on the type of coverage the couple currently has through work or privately. If the plan covers out-of-network health care costs, then they will be covered in another state. Unfortunately, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) do not cover out-of-network costs leaving the couple susceptible to pay for the health care services.
Are any insurance companies offering products tailored to gay or lesbian couples? Do you expect that they will?
There are plans that are tailored to add a domestic partnership or another same-sex individual. Not all plans offer this coverage and it depends on the health insurance company, but it’s great to know that there are plans that offer this type of individual coverage. In the future, more plans will probably change to include the coverage to stay competitive.
What resources are available for a person in a domestic partnership seeking health insurance?
If a person wants to try to get their company to offer the benefits they should check out the Human Rights Campaign. HRC has provided a lot of literature on how to advocate for LGBT equality in the workplace.
Otherwise, a person could apply for individual coverage if group benefits are not an option.
Are there opportunities for people to lobby their employers or state politicians for insurance equality?
There are opportunities for individuals to lobby and learn more about the guidelines set in their state. Again the HRC has a lot of resources online to help answer these questions and holds events regularly.
GoHealthInsurance.com is a health insurance technology platform used by millions of health insurance shoppers each year.February 10, 2012