A doctor has
accused St. Mary's Hospital in Waterbury, Conn., of bias for
its refusal to extend health insurance to his civil-union partner.
Dr. Alan J. Couture, 36, an emergency physician
at St. Mary's for eight years, filed a complaint
Thursday with the state Commission on Human Rights and
Opportunities. He accused the hospital of discriminating
against him on the basis of his sexual orientation and
marital status. "I knew it wasn't right," said
Couture, who was raised a Roman Catholic.
He and Robert McDonald, 28, joined in a civil
union last October. Couture received only one
insurance card, and McDonald learned he was not covered
when he tried to schedule an appointment with the couple's
primary care physician.
St. Mary's operates independently of, but in
cooperation with, the Archdiocese of Hartford. Robert
Ritz, the hospital's president, said that as a
Catholic institution, it abides by the "ethical and
religious directives of the church." "The [civil
union] statutes have created some complications for us
because of our values," he said.
Civil unions became legal in
Connecticut last October, requiring health
insurance plans regulated by the state to give civil
partners the same benefits as spouses. Anthem Blue
Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut, which provides
health care coverage to St. Mary's employees, extends
benefits to civil partners.
But the hospital's insurance is self-funded,
keeping it outside the jurisdiction of the state's
insurance department, state officials said.
Self-funded insurance plans do not have the same type of
state oversight or regulation as other plans, said
Kevin Lembo, the state health care advocate.
Dawne Westbrook, a Waterbury lawyer who filed
the complaint on behalf of Couture and McDonald, said
St. Mary's engaged in employment discrimination by not
treating Couture the same as other employees. As
recipients of state funding, Catholic hospitals are subject
to state laws, she said.
Phil Johnson, vice president of human resources
at St. Mary's Hospital, said officials made the
decision after careful review. "He is a good member of
our staff, but to change our philosophy or our values at
this point would be inconsistent." The hospital also
refuses coverage for birth control or sterilizations,
which conflict with Catholic principles, Johnson said.