Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Coverage for Same-Sex Couples

Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Coverage for Same-Sex Couples
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Historically, employer-sponsored health insurance coverage wasn’t as widely available for same-sex couples as it was for opposite-sex couples. But that’s all changing.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy organization, two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies now offer their employees’ domestic partner health insurance benefits, up from 40 percent in 2003.

Still, coverage is far from universal, with only 39 percent of all U.S. employers that offer health benefits extending health insurance to employees’ unmarried same-sex domestic partners, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"Employer-sponsored coverage for same-sex partners usually depends on the size of the company and where it is in the country," says Todd Solomon, a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and author of Guide to Benefits for Domestic Partners and Same-Gender Couples.

No matter where you live, or what size company you work for, answering these four questions can help make sure your spouse or partner gets the coverage he or she needs — whether from your employer or elsewhere.

1. Are You Married?

Marriage equality — due to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — has had a significant impact on employer-sponsored health insurance. "If an employer has an insurance plan in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, and that plan covers spouses, it has to cover both same-sex and opposite-sex spouses," Solomon says.

2. Does Your Employer Offer Domestic Partner Health Insurance Benefits?

If you’re not married to your partner, or if you live in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, your employer might still offer coverage.

3. If Your Employer Doesn’t Offer Domestic Partner Health Insurance Benefits, Why Not?

If your employer doesn’t offer health insurance benefits for same-sex couples, find out why.

"A lot of times, the reason employers — especially small employers — don’t offer domestic partner benefits is because nobody’s ever asked for them," Solomon says. "It’s not at all unreasonable for an employee to say, ‘Have you ever considered whether we should offer same-sex partner coverage?’ because it may be possible to get it."

4. Can Your Partner Obtain Health Insurance Coverage Elsewhere?

Even if your company offers domestic partner benefits, if you’re unmarried, it may be more cost-effective to seek insurance separately.

"For unmarried partners, it is virtually always better to obtain coverage separately than to obtain coverage together because benefits for unmarried partners are tax-inefficient," Solomon says. "If you’re in a same-sex partnership, and your partner accepts coverage on your plan, you’re generally going to pay taxes on that coverage unless you’re married."

Your partner might be able to obtain employer-sponsored coverage through his or her own employer, or purchase individual coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Solomon says that individuals who meet income requirements may also qualify for tax credits or cost-sharing subsidies that reduce the cost of coverage.

Asking the right questions is the best way to ensure you and your spouse or partner get the health insurance coverage you need.

Learn more about unique considerations when obtaining health insurance with your partner.

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