Will the Obergefell Decision Affect Healthcare Benefits?

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the nation, employers are reevaluating health benefits to include same-sex spouses. However, these adjustments may jeopardize the healthcare benefits for those in domestic partnerships, unmarried unions and common law marriages. 

The landmark decision regarding same-sex marriage not only altered laws regarding marriage equality, but has implications on employee health care coverage. Businesses have found that they must decide who is eligible for coverage under company health care plans. While coverage for same-sex couples who are married may increase, those in domestic partnerships, civil unions and common law marriages may find their coverage limited or even revoked.

Though the Supreme Court case did not explicitly address employee benefits, it redefined ‘marriage’ and all underlying assumptions of the term. With this, employers must decide whether they will extend spousal health care benefits to partners who are not married, or discard domestic partner benefits completely. Some lawmakers claim that an extension of the benefits will require an extension of the definition of the word ‘spouse’ to include domestic partnerships, civil unions and common law marriages.

Prior to the ruling, over 70% of large companies extended domestic partnership benefits to same-sex partners because of their inability to have a legally recognized marriage. Additionally, nearly half of all large employers stretched benefits to cover heterosexual couples who had lived together for a certain period of time. As of 2014, there were almost 8 million heterosexual cohabiting couples in the workforce: over 50% of which range in age from 30 to 64. A loss in healthcare coverage for such couples would greatly affect this demographic on the basis that they chose not to enter into a legally recognized marriage.

Certain large corporations have dropped same-sex domestic partner coverage because those covered under such plans now have the opportunity to get married and receive spousal benefits. Should other companies decide to keep same-sex unmarried benefits, but deny opposite sex cohabiting couple benefits, they may be liable to face reverse discrimination lawsuits.

The healthcare decision at hand is not to be taken lightly by employers, being that the definition of partner or spouse has many broad implications. It will be important for companies to review and revise their healthcare coverage as the legal landscape regarding marriage rights continues to change.

For information regarding how the Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision may affect your business, or to consult with an attorney who is well versed in business law, contact Bodie, Attorneys at Law today.