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Can I add an unmarried partner to my health insurance plan?

For decades, health insurance benefits have been used by employers to attract a high-quality workforce. A good health insurance package that covers employees and their families can be an effective incentive for hard work and loyalty. But in a country like America, where personal freedom is championed as an inalienable right, loving families take on many forms and appearances. Employers and government agencies are increasingly broadening their benefit packages to embrace the lifestyles of more Americans, thus expanding the diversity in the workplace.

Health Insurance Laws for Unmarried and Same Sex Couples

Today, a large number of private and government employers extend insurance coverage to incorporate common law marriages and domestic partnerships of same- and opposite-sex couples. Laws vary from state to state, so not every couple has the same support from legislators across the nation.

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Same-sex marriages are legal in some states, and in other states such couples can register for civil unions and domestic partnerships. In these states, couples enjoy some of the same benefits guaranteed to married couples. However, these rules often exclude opposite-sex couples on the grounds that they already have the legal right to marry.

The state of Alaska, for example, requires state agencies to offer the same benefits to domestic partnerships that married public employees receive. In 2005, that state’s Supreme Court ruled that government workers are able to add their unmarried spouses to their insurance policies. Private companies in Alaska are not held to the same standard as government employers as a result of the ruling. In Connecticut, same-sex unions are performed by the state, but common law marriages are not recognized. Therefore, an opposite-sex spouse may not be able to receive benefits from a partner’s health insurer in some cases. California, on the other hand, has some of the broadest and most inclusive domestic partnership statutes. Most state and local employees, as well as many workers in the private sector, are able to add their unmarried spouses to their policies in the Golden State.

There are many reasons why people choose to cohabitate as a couple without the approval of a legal union by the state. Some wish to remain unwed to avoid negative consequences to pensions or tax statuses. Couples cannot be legally permitted to wed in many states of our union, as in the case of same-sex couples. Others don’t feel the need to have the blessing of their government to strengthen their bond. Whatever the reason may be for their personal decisions, public opinion and interpretation of equal protection laws are granting more couples permission to receive the same benefits as married persons.

Health Insurance Companies Hold the Cards

To protect themselves from fraud, insurers have specific guidelines regarding the benefits to domestic partnerships and unmarried couples. Conditions may require that the partner share the same address as the insured. Usually, to be considered as a spouse, someone cannot be already married to another person, and cannot be a relative of the policy holder. Some insurers don’t allow opposite-sex partners to be added to policies, on the grounds that the couple is exercising their personal choice to not marry and are thereby forfeiting their rights as a married couple.

Whether or not your health insurance company will allow the addition of an unmarried spouse is difficult to say definitively. Not only are the laws of the 50 states involved, the employer, the insurer and the policy itself may be the deciding factor. If your partner can be added to your policy, there may still be a waiting period that delays coverage for a certain number of months.

Adding a domestic partner as a “Dependant?

Even if your state recognizes neither domestic partnerships nor common law marriages, it is possible to cover a domestic partner with your insurance policy by listing your spouse as a dependent. As in most every other case, a lot will depend on the insurer and the language of the policy. Unless the term ‘domestic partner’ is used and defined by the insurance company, then the insurer can easily prohibit coverage for a spouse of the same gender as the insured. If there is a domestic partnership registry in any given state, the insurer and employer may require that same-sex couples are registered to provide evidence of the relationship. The insurer will also probably need a signed affidavit from the policy holder that satisfies the company’s definition of a spouse and establishes a history of a shared household.

In the eyes of an insurer or employer, a domestic partner may be considered a dependent. However, the same cannot be said of the Internal Revenue Service. Under the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, federal government agencies are prevented from recognizing any same-sex marriages that have taken place in the states of New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Vermont, and Iowa. For income tax purposes, a dependent must be a child or a qualifying relative, and domestic partners are specifically excluded.

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