Sen. Boxer Introduces Legislation To Extend COBRA Coverage To Domestic Partners

barbboxerMost Americans who lose their jobs and the health insurance coverage that comes with it have the option of maintaining their insurance at the community-rated premium through the COBRA program. COBRA provides coverage to “certain former employees, retirees, spouses, former spouses, and dependent children” at fairly steep rates (enrollees have to pay the full cost of insurance plus an administrative fee), but it can insulate a family from medical debt and financial ruin.

But not all Americans can access this health care security. The federal government requires companies to offer COBRA coverage to married spouses, but does not mandate companies to extend the same option to the domestic partners of departing employees. As Liz Weiss and Josh Rosenthal point out in this column, some in Congress are seeking to change that:

A new bill introduced last month in Congress would rectify this longstanding inequity in the COBRA system by expanding federal COBRA health care continuation guarantees beyond only opposite-sex, married couples. The Equal Access to COBRA Act of 2010, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), would guarantee same-sex spouses, domestic partners, and other beneficiaries such as parents, grandparents, or siblings the opportunity to maintain their employer-provided health insurance plan through COBRA. The bill would not require employers to offer health insurance to families or any relatives. It would merely offer all covered family members the same opportunity to maintain health care coverage.

“Nontraditional families, including domestic partnerships, same-sex marriages, and multigenerational families are increasingly common” and Boxer’s legislation “would allow equal access to COBRA coverage for all individuals who are covered by an employer’s health plan.” The legislation could benefit some “6.6 million opposite-sex unmarried partners, nearly 800,000 same-sex couples, and 16 percent of Americans living in a multigenerational household, according to new research from the Pew Research Center.”

The bill is currently in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and has not attracted any co-sponsors.