Judge Overturns Arizona Efforts To Deny Health Benefits To Domestic Partners

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R)

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R)

Earlier this year, the Arizona legislature eliminated funding for KidsCare, the state health program covering 38,000 children of the working poor, to help close the state’s $5 billion budget gap. By ending the program, the state forfeited billions of dollars in federal matching funds and left uninsured children with few health care options. After health care reform passed — the law requires states that want to continue receiving federal health care funds to maintain eligibility in Medicaid and CHIP — Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) realized that the cuts would have meant that the state would lose millions in federal matching funds and “urged legislators to restore the programs.”

Unfortunately that wouldn’t be the first time the state of Arizona cut vital services in an effort to balance the budget and then was forced to reverse course. Last September, in yet another effort to plug a spending hole, Brewer “eliminated health benefits to the spouses of domestic partners – gay or straight,” adversely affecting same-sex couples who “cannot marry in the state.” Now that too will be revered.

On Friday, a federal judge rejected the state’s claim that “the elimination of benefits will not harm the families of gay and lesbian employees because they may still be able to obtain insurance privately, through Medicaid or via the employers of the non-public employee partner.” From Lambda Legal, which sued the state on behalf of 10 state employee “who rely on health benefits from their employers to safeguard their families’ health“:

“Even assuming that is true,” Sedwick writes, citing a 9th Circuit Court ruling in Lambda Legal’s ongoing case In re Golinski, “the Ninth Circuit has recognized there is ‘an inherent inequality’ in allowing some employees to participate fully in the State’s health plan, while expecting other employees to rely on other sources, such as private insurance or Medicaid. ‘This back of the bus’ treatment relegates plaintiffs to a second-class status by imposing inferior workplace treatment on them, inflicting serious constitutional and dignitary harms that after-the-fact damages cannot adequately address.”

“This injunction removes the sword that’s been hanging over the heads of hundreds of state workers and their families,” said Tara Borelli, the Lambda Legal staff attorney who argued the case on June 28.

There is one other interesting point about all of this. The state’s effort to deny government-sponsored health care benefits to domestic partners coincided with its campaign to undo health care reform in the state. Arizona is both challenging the constitutionality of health care reform in court and hopes to eliminate the individual health insurance mandate through a ballot measure in November. Had the Judge not issued his injunction and these repeal measures were at all successful, gay couples in Arizona would actually have very few health care choices.