Legislation that would in many cases allow same-sex domestic partners access to COBRA insurance benefits should their partner leave or lose their job was introduced in Congress this week.
Known as the Equal Access to COBRA Act, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) reintroduced the bill in the Senate after it failed to move last year, while Anthony Weiner (D-NY) introduced a companion bill in the House.
Currently, COBRA covers only employees, their spouses and dependent children, the official term “spouse” being something that same-sex couples are denied the right to access by the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
The Equal Access to COBRA Act would open up COBRA and ensure other designated beneficiaries would be given equal access and the ability to obtain continuation coverage. The bill is also designed to allow for access to Congress enacted subsidiaries to aid families in utilizing COBRA benefits.
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today reintroduced the Equal Access to COBRA Act, which would allow many domestic partners the same access married spouses currently have to COBRA health coverage if their partner loses a job.
The law would apply to companies that already offer health coverage to domestic partners and their children. Currently, more than half of Fortune 500 companies cover domestic partners under their health plans.
Senator Boxer said, “All of our families deserve equal access to health insurance. This bill would help ensure that domestic partners and their families will be able to keep their health coverage if their partner loses their job.”
Under federal law, employers must offer continuing health care coverage to departing employees and their beneficiaries for up to 36 months. Current federal laws related to COBRA coverage do not apply to domestic partners or same-sex spouses – even at companies that offer health coverage to domestic partners of employees.
This legislation would change federal law to allow equal access to COBRA coverage for all individuals who are covered by an employer’s health plan. It would apply to domestic partners as they are defined by an employer’s health insurance plan.
Senator Boxer originally introduced the legislation last year, and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) has introduced a companion bill in the House.
Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign praised the introduction of this legislation, saying: “In these troubled economic times, social safety-net benefits like COBRA continuation coverage are even more important to American families. Hundreds of employers, including more than half of the Fortune 500, already extend health benefits to the domestic partners of their employees as a matter of fairness as well as good business practice. LGBT people should have the equal ability to maintain those critical benefits for their families during difficult times. We applaud Senator Boxer and Representative Weiner for their leadership in seeking these important protections for our community.”
Whether the legislation can be moved in the Republican-dominated House remains to be seen, but it is in fact the first time this legislation has been introduced in the lower chamber.