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Federal Employees Can Purchase Health Insurance For Their Pets, But Not Their Same-Sex Partners

By Igor Volsky  

"Federal Employees Can Purchase Health Insurance For Their Pets, But Not Their Same-Sex Partners"

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This morning, federal employees who are insured through the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program received an email from Aetna advertising their new pet insurance plans. “In these challenging economic times, it’s good to know you can get some financial protection for unexpected illness and injury to your pets,” the e-mail reads before listing the many benefits:

The insurance is a handsome perk for those who can afford it, but what’s illuminating about the ad is that while federal employees can buy pet insurance “in these challenging economic times,” LGBT workers are still prohibited from purchasing policies for their partners or spouses by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — a federal law which denies federal benefits to legally married same sex couples.

President Obama supports repealing DOMA (although the administration is currently defending the policy in court), but hasn’t pressured Congress to repeal the Act. Last year, he issued a memorandum instructing federal agencies to “conduct a thorough review of the benefits they provide and to identify any that could be extended to LGBT employees and their partners and families” within the scope of current law and has since ordered federal agencies to “extend a host of benefits to their employees’ same-sex domestic partners.” These benefits include: long-term health insurance, credit union membership; access to fitness facilities, planning and counseling services (including briefings on employee pay and allowances, career counseling and retirement counseling.

There are currently two separate bills in the House and Senate to provide full federal benefits to same sex domestic partners of federal employee. Last year, the legislation was voted out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on a bipartisan basis (Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) co-sponsored the measure), but Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) — the bill’s chief sponsor — has promised not to move this on the floor of the Senate “until we get the explicit offsets” from OPM. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the legislation would cost approximately $310 million through 2020 and benefit some 30,000 employees with same-sex partners.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved a similar domestic partner benefits bill in November of 2009.

Update

OPM sends in this clarification statement:

While Aetna is a participating carrier in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), the pet insurance product offered by Aetna is not a federal benefit, nor has it been listed as a benefit in any OPM prepared or reviewed materials. Aetna, on its own initiative, offers a variety of discount products to its members, including gym memberships, weight loss programs, eyewear, vitamins, etc. Pet insurance is one of these products.

Aetna has apologized for using the reference to FEHBP in its communication on this discount program.

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