Gays, Lots of Other People Have Difficulty Getting Health Insurance

This piece in the New York Times documents the difficulty legally married and domestically partnered (term?) gay couples often have obtaining health insurance.

Currently about one-third of companies with more than 500 employees offer domestic partner benefits. That’s up from about 12 percent in 2000, according to a study from Mercer, an employee benefits consulting firm. But the percentage drops off sharply when smaller employers are counted, Ms. Hudson said.

And there is no provision for domestic partner benefits for federal employees, although there are some legislative efforts to change that. Some states and municipalities offer their employees domestic partner coverage, depending on the state laws.

Even if the relationship is formalized with the state in a marriage or union, that does not always obligate the employer to cover a same-sex spouse. For one thing, self-insured employers are not regulated by the states.

And other benefit-providing employers that choose not to offer such coverage can sometimes use the Defense of Marriage Act — a law that forbids the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage — to trump state laws, said Ilse de Veer, a principal with Mercer.

Of course, this is a highly unjust form of descrimination, but to take it one step further, it’s really more illustritive of the perversity of the employer based health care system in the United States. Not only is it difficult to obtain certain health benefits if you’re gay, but it’s also difficult to obtain coverage if, say, you are laid off during a massive recession, have a “pre-existing condition”, or simply work part time. This isn’t to diminish the level of descrimination faced by gays on this front — but just to point out that if affordable and fair health insurance were offered through a public plan or a regulated exchange, this would be an issue of primarily cultural inequity.

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