Editorial: Ruling puts health benefits in spotlight


Look for change and challenges in the health insurance landscape now that same-sex marriage is legal in every state.

Both will revolve around domestic partnership benefits.

Many companies have offered these benefits to gay and lesbian couples as an alternative to full spousal health benefits. With the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday, the question arises if domestic partnership plans are necessary, or even legal.

Don’t be surprised if many employers soon drop their domestic partnership benefits and instead require employees to marry if they want to extend coverage to their partners. It is hard to see how benefits programs limited to same-sex couples can stand up in court, particularly in states that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. If an employer keeps such a program, limiting it to same-sex couples, it’s possible an opposite-sex couple could sue and win, saying they too should be able to claim the benefit.

Excellus Blue Cross and Blue Shield realized this several years ago when the state of New York legalized same-sex marriage, Modern Healthcare research magazine pointed out. The insurer, which has 1.5 million members, gave its employees about 15-months notice that to qualify for employer-paid health insurance, partners would have to marry.

“It just made it simpler to administer,” Excellus spokesman Jim Redmond told the magazine. “It simplified and clarified the parameters of who’s eligible for coverage through the company benefit.”

Already, The Human Rights Campaign is trying to combat such moves. It urged employers Friday to continue offering domestic partner benefits “as a sign of sustained commitment to family diversity, inclusion and protection of LGBT employees whose rights outside the workplace are not guaranteed under law in many states.”

Sarah Warbelow, the organization’s legal director, noted that “if an LGBT employee is, in effect, ‘outed’ by being required to obtain a public marriage license in a state that doesn’t provide explicit non-discrimination protections, it could place that employee and their family at risk of being denied credit, housing and public accommodation.”

The Supreme Court’s decision answered the Constitutional issue about gay marriage, but opened the door to many other issues.

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