Feds Offer Health Benefits to Children of Domestic Partners

The new rule applies to children of federal employees who are in same-sex domestic partnerships but live in states where marriage is not an option.

BY Alex J Davidson

November 06 2013 5:00 AM ET

A new federal rule issued last week will allow more children of same-sex couples in which one or both spouses work for the federal government to obtain health care.

The Office of Personnel Management announced October 30 that it was amending the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to allow federal workers living in states where same-sex marriage is illegal but are in domestic partnerships to enroll their children. The final rule takes effect January 1. The same amendment applies to the program covering vision and dental benefits.

OPM officials acknowledged in a statement that they recognize the legalities around same-sex marriage are in flux and that the agency may have to adjust eligibility rules accordingly.

“We recognize that the legal landscape is rapidly changing, and certain states that currently do not allow same-sex couples to marry may soon allow them to do so,” the statement read. “Same-sex couples may also relocate from states where they cannot marry to states where they are permitted to marry. The possibility that the relevant state marriage laws may change mid-year has the potential to create significant administrative difficulties.”

According to the Williams Institute, as many as 6 million American children and adults have an LGBT parent. And there are at least 71,165 same-sex marriages in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center, which says there are almost certainly more given the lack of good data collection for the LGBT demographic.
 As a result there is no exact figure as to how many families will be affected by the decision.

The rule change comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. Extending coverage to children of domestic partners in states where marriage is not an option is also consistent with memoranda issued by the Obama administration, the OPM notes. 

However, adults who are domestic partners of federal employees are not eligible for spousal benefits, according to the OPM.

“As a result of the Supreme Court's decision striking down Section 3 of DOMA as unconstitutional, same-sex spouses of Federal employees and annuitants are now able to access benefits that are provided to spouses, including FEHB benefits,” the statement says. “Same-sex domestic partners are not encompassed within the statutory definition of member of family. OPM is therefore without authority to extend coverage to domestic partners.”

This means that the federal government, unlike many private companies, will not be offering domestic partner benefits — potentially making the private sector more attractive to LGBT workers.

Contact reporter Alex Davidson on Twitter at twitter.com/adwildcat

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