Nancy Polikoff

If You Work for a Private Employer in DC, You Want to Know This

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | August 04, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics

If you are a District of Columbia government employee, you have been able to get health insurance for your registered domestic partner for many years. If you are a federal government employee - well, you are out of luck unless Congress passes a law authorizing such benefits.

If you work for a private employer in DC, however, the recent law passed by the city council and signed by Mayor Fenty requires employers in the District of Columbia to recognize marriages performed elsewhere, and may mean something big for you. Insurance companies can no longer sell an insurance product in the District of Columbia that covers different-sex spouses, but not same-sex spouses.

Here is the catch. This nondiscrimination rule will not affect those employers who "self-insure," meaning that they cover their employee health care costs themselves. You probably do not know if your employer falls into this category. I didn't for a long time, and my employer, American University, self-insures. The nondiscrimination rule regulates INSURANCE COMPANIES, not employers. Insurance companies simply cannot sell a product to employers that discriminates between different-sex and same-sex spouses.

I know this sounds complex. Basically, a federal law allows employers to decide for themselves what kind of employee health insurance benefits to offer, subject only to FEDERAL, not state or local rules. But states and the District of Columbia can regulate INSURANCE COMPANIES, and that's what D.C. is doing.

I need to thank Cathy Sakimura at the National Center for Lesbian Rights for making all this clear to me. Here is the bulletin explaining the change from the DC Dept. of Insurance, Securities, and Banking. Here is a publication from HRC that explains the situation more fully. And here is HRC's explanation in the simplest possible language. It includes some important time deadlines if you got married before July 7, the effective date of the DC law recognizing same-sex marriages from elsewhere.

If you work for a private employer in DC, it's something you definitely want to read.

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