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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 27 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 30
Feds extend health coverage to children of same-sex partners
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Feds extend health coverage to children of same-sex partners

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Federal employees in same-sex relationships will be able to enroll their partners' children in the federal health insurance plan under new rules published July 20 by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

The OPM is the federal government's human resources department, and administers federal benefits programs.

The proposed rule brings the federal health insurance plan into compliance with the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers providing dependent coverage to extend that coverage to all dependents under age 26.

Now that the proposed rule has been published, the OPM will take public comment on it. Comments must be received by the agency within 60 days.

The rule would be made final at an unspecified later date. Typically, regulations become effective 30 days after they're issued.

Once the new rule is enacted, children will be eligible for coverage if a parent is in a same-sex domestic partnership relationship with a federal employee who receives coverage through federal programs.

These children would be eligible for coverage - both under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB) and the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Program (FEDVIP) - regardless of whether they have been legally adopted by the federal employee.

The proposed rule change means that children of same-sex partners of federal employees would receive benefits unavailable to the same-sex partners themselves. The Obama administration has said it cannot extend major benefits, including health coverage and pensions, to the same-sex partners of federal employees because of DOMA.

For this reason, the OPM is named as the defendant in two lawsuits challenging DOMA - Gill v. OPM and Golinski v. OPM.

Legislation that would extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees - the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act - was reported out of the appropriate Senate committee in May, but has not yet come to the floor for a vote.

Emily Hecht-McGowan, the Family Equality Council's public policy director, said the proposed rule is important because many LGBT families live in states that do not recognize their relationships, or their families.

'Most of the two million children raised by LGBT parents live in states where their parents cannot marry, cannot secure legal ties to their own kids, and cannot get their children covered under a health insurance plan,' Hecht-McGowan said.

'This rule change means that federal workers can now be assured that a high fever, broken arm, or debilitating illness won't jeopardize their child's health or their family's finances.'

Under current rules, a federal employee can obtain coverage for the children of a same-sex partner if they adopt the partner's children. But adoption is legally available to same-sex couples in only 18 states and the District of Columbia.

HRC legal director Brian Moulton said the proposed rule change is important because of the legal restrictions on second-parent adoption.

'In the absence of fair adoption laws, thousands of same-sex parents across the country remain legal strangers to the children they have raised from birth,' Moulton said. 'By issuing this proposed rule, OPM will ensure that fewer children of federal workers will be denied health care coverage simply because their parents are a same-sex couple.'

The history of the proposed rule change goes back to a memorandum issued by the White House three years ago.

On June 17, 2009, President Obama extended limited domestic partner benefits to LGBT federal employees and instructed U.S. agencies to determine if additional benefits could be extended. The results of that review were compiled by the OPM and sent to the White House as recommendations.

A subsequent memo from Obama on June 2, 2010, instructed federal agencies to implement them.

Since 2009, the OPM has maintained that the definition of 'stepchild' in U.S. code dealing with federal employees could be interpreted to include the child of an employee's same-sex partner.

'This regulatory action is necessary to implement fully the Presidential Memoranda cited above and is consistent with OPM's policy determination that extension of coverage is appropriate,' the proposed rule says.

'Accordingly, this proposed rule extends FEHB and FEDVIP coverage to children of same-sex domestic partners of enrolled employees and annuitants.'

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