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- Same sex marriages have been legalized in Vermont and Massachusetts
- Adding your partner to your existing policy may be cheaper than obtaining an individual plan
- Same sex marriages are not recognized by the federal government
The question of being able to buy health insurance for your same-sex partner is not a simple one. The answer — which is a resounding “maybe” – depends on the state in which you live and the company for which you work. You also need to take into account several other variables that are often thrown in.
Companies can often extend health insurance to your partner based on company policy, although company policy can sometimes be overridden by state rules.
Depending on the status of your relationship, you may end up being able to obtain coverage under domestic partner health insurance plans, but you will still have to assess if the coverage is worth the price.
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Is it worth the cost?
If not, adding your partner to your own policy might be cheaper than obtaining insurance as an individual not attached to any group plan.
Although the employer’s rate for insuring same-sex couples increases their cost by a very small percentage, you could end up footing a hefty premium thanks to the Internal Revenue Service’s tax law.
The tax law states you must pay income taxes on the portion of the premium that covers your domestic partner — although the law does not apply to partners of legal marriages and children.
In addition to the federal and possible state taxes you’ll pay on the premiums, you also lose money by not being able to use monies from any flexible spending or health savings account to pay for your partner’s benefits.
Do same-sex marriage laws mean health insurance is guaranteed?
As the age-old adage goes, the only guarantees in life are death and taxes, and you already heard what the tax law does to domestic partner insurance premiums.
States that have passed laws to recognize same-sex marriage do not necessarily require businesses in that particular state to do the same when it comes to health insurance.
Same-sex marriages and civil unions are legal in Vermont and Massachusetts, however, information is not yet readily available if companies will be required to provide health insurance for gay partners in those states.
Other states, such as California and New Jersey, have laws that go beyond recognizing same-sex marriages by granting certain medical, insurance, and legal rights.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, states can also have laws that purposely omit gay partners from insurance coverage.
Ohio has a law that ensures state employees will not be able to receive domestic partner benefits. Virginia companies that have coverage through the Virginia Bureau of Insurance are not allowed to extend domestic partner coverage to gay partners.
Companies that are self-insured do not have to heed the state’s bureau of insurance, but they are also free to select their own policies as they see fit.
This could mean a break in coverage for a gay partner or it could mean exclusion, even if state laws dictate such coverage should be provided.
One more roadblock against health insurance for gay partners is the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a law that states same-sex marriages are not recognized by the federal government. Companies can always pull this law out of a hat to override any state laws that dictate same-sex partners must be covered.
What makes a domestic partner?
If your employer does offer same-sex domestic partner insurance, simply sharing the same address is usually not enough proof for companies to consider you in a domestic partnership.
Official documentation of your relationship may be required, with the options, once again, depending on where you live.
Several municipalities offer registries where domestic partners can document their relationship at the state, county or city level.
Check with your local city, county or state government office to see if such a registry exists and, if so, what you need to do add your relationship to the registry.
Another option is a signed affidavit that outlines the relationship and is signed by you and your gay partner. Such an affidavit often requires more than just your word and signature, however.
You may need to show proof with jointly signed documents that could include a homeowners’ insurance policy, lease, or other legal documents such as joint bank account statements.
Do many companies offer gay partner coverage?
The ideal place to begin your search for domestic partner coverage is at your place of business.
In 1982, The Village Voice newspaper in New York became the first employer to offer gay partner domestic partner benefits in the United States.
Since then, others such as Nike and Apple Computer have extended their health benefits throughout the 1990s with even more coming on board in the 2000s.
Large firms such as Sears, Staples, UPS, and Lexmark International have since extended benefits to domestic partners. Nearly 7,000 privately owned companies now offer benefits to domestic partners, according to the gay and lesbian lobbying group Human Rights Campaign.
These benefits extend to same-sex domestic partners with some companies including opposite-sex domestic partners into the mix.
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