Health insurance options for same-sex couples

Silver David Michael Barrett and husband Mark Peters were married in 2008 during the brief period in which same-sex marriage was legal in California. And for almost a decade, they considered themselves fortunate to qualify for work-based insurance coverage provided through Peters’ employer.

But when Peters left his job last month, the couple faced a new round of insurance decisions and questions about eligibility and benefits. “We had to totally rethink our healthcare,” Barrett says.

Every insurance company and every state has different rules, policies, benefits and options. And now a new batch of national standards is unfolding as the Affordable Care Act takes effect.

For gay couples, extra questions abound, with federal and state laws about and under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even though same-sex marriage is not currently legal in California, gay couples here enjoy legal rights not available in many other states.

California law requires insurance companies to offer coverage for . That means coverage must be the same or equivalent to that offered to heterosexual spouses, according to Jennifer , director of the Law and Policy Project with Lambda Legal, an for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

When Peters left his job, the couple faced a choice: Extend their existing policy or search for other options. Sticking with the same policy as a former employee would have cost $1,200-plus a month, Barrett says. “That isn’t really a viable option. It’s ridiculous.”

The couple turned to the to shop for a new plan, which Barrett found easier than he had expected. “They gave me more trouble getting insurance because I have high cholesterol than because we are a same-,” he says.

The men now pay $363 a month.

For same-sex couples who are in the market for health insurance, here are some options to consider.

Getting insurance at work

The good news, says Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, is that a growing number of employers nationwide are making health benefits available to same-sex partners. “Almost all employers cover spouses, and now we have same-sex partners who can be married. If they are married, they are covered,” she says.

In addition, about two-thirds of Fortune 500 employers in the country now make health benefits available to the same-sex partners of employees, as long as they are registered as .

Employers generally aren’t required by law to offer this type of coverage or to allow a same-sex spouse to continue that coverage through COBRA after the employee leaves the job, but most do anyhow as a way of recruiting top employees. “You want people to feel welcome, and the more benefits you can give them, the more likely they are to want to work for that organization,” Darling says.

Still, same-sex couples often face higher costs. For heterosexual married couples, employer-based health insurance is a tax-free benefit. That’s not the case for same-sex couples.

Barrett and Peters, for example, are legally married in California and file state taxes jointly as a married couple. However, because the U.S. government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages, they must file federal taxes individually.

That means employers offering same-sex health benefits are required by law to calculate the cost of the benefit and report it as earned income. “Because you are not considered married, that spousal benefit would be considered as compensation,” explains Ninez Ponce, senior researcher at UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research.

Therefore, both the employee and the employer pay taxes to the federal government on health benefits for same-sex couples.

Buying coverage on your own

Article source:,0,2827282.story

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