Blue Cross Cancels Obamacare Family Plans for Gay N.C. Couples

Monday, 27 Jan 2014 02:42 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Blue Cross and Blue Shield is canceling family insurance plans it sold last month to same-sex couples in North Carolina through Obamacare, saying that its policies only define "spouse" as being a partner of the "opposite sex."

Twenty couples, including some legally wed in states where gay marriages are recognized, received calls from Blue Cross earlier this month to tell them that the family coverage they had purchased was invalid, and encouraged them to buy individual policies instead, reports The News Observer in Raleigh.

"I was so taken aback by it, I was speechless," Durham resident Al Hinman, who moved to North Carolina from New York with his husband last year, told the newspaper. “It was wrong, and it shouldn’t have happened that way. For 24 years we’ve been on the same insurance with a few gaps.”

North Carolina does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions as being legal. However, Kerry Hall, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Insurance, said state law does not prohibit selling insurance to same-sex couples, noting that Blue Cross was legally bound by its own "restrictive contract language."

Ironically, Blue Cross offers domestic partner benefits to its own employees, and its insurance plans offered through large companies in North Carolina include benefits for same-sex couples.

According to federal law, the Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination in health coverage based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, the Supreme Court last summer ruled that same-sex couples are eligible for federal benefits, including subsidies to pay for insurance coverage, but only in states that recognize gay marriage.

According to Blue Cross spokeswoman Michelle Douglas, her company has never offered same-sex health coverage on individual or small group policies in North Carolina, but had planned to update the company rules.

However, the company postponed making the change while scrambling to roll out plans under Obamacare, said Douglas. Changes would have affected the company's insurance cards and other calculations, she said, which would have required extra time. The company rules will likely be rewritten in 2015.

"We recognize and agree that the ability to purchase family coverage is important from a fairness standpoint," Douglas said. "The reason for the deferral was that there was no financial impact to most customers."

Hinman said he and his husband saved $68 a month by buying two separate policies, but said "we’d like to go back and do things like everyone else and be a family."

Brian Moulton, legal director for the gay-rights organization Human Rights Campaign, said there have been no other states so far where same-sex customers have had their policies canceled.

But Adam Linker of the NC Justice Center, a public policy organization in Raleigh, said the issue is not about money, but about human rights issues.

"It’s not that they are locked out of insurance or that they will be denied subsidies," said Linker. "It’s just that, as in so many areas of life, a loving, married couple has to pretend to be strangers because of discriminatory laws and policies."

Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas, the only other insurer on North Carolina's heathcare exchanges, allows same-sex couples to buy family policies, a company spokesman said.

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