How to get health insurance for your domestic partner

Amy Higgins

Domestic partnership appears to be on the rise. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 4,552,034 opposite-sex unmarried partner households in 2000 and 4,870,079 in 2003. As for same-sex unmarried partner households, the number grew from 657,048 in 2000 to 701,674 in 2003.

While many couples or are choosing not to or are legally prohibited from tying the knot, they can reap many benefits married couples enjoy. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), 34 percent of large employers offer health insurance benefits for domestic partners.

What is a domestic partner?

To receive employer-sponsored health benefits, employees must meet their employer's definition of domestic partnership. According to an article for Pepperdine University's Graziadio Business Review, businesses often require that both parties prove the following before they can be eligible for health insurance benefits:

  • They meet the company's minimum age requirements (usually 18).
  • They are unmarried.
  • They are not related by blood to an extent that would prohibit marriage (as defined by the state's marriage laws).
  • They have an exclusive relationship of a minimum duration (often one year).
  • They are financially interdependent.
  • They live together (an employer may choose to exclude this element). Simple living situations, like roommates, don't count.

A "Declaration of Domestic Partnership" insurance form from Direct Access Benefits (a group health insurance provider that serves businesses on the East Coast) asks domestic partners to provide proof of at least three of the following to demonstrate their interdependence:

  • Common ownership of real property (a mortgage, for example) or a shared lease.
  • Common ownership of a motor vehicle.
  • Driver's licenses showing a shared address.
  • Joint bank accounts or credit card accounts.
  • Designation as the primary beneficiary for life insurance or retirement benefits, or primary beneficiary designation under a will.
  • Assignment of power of attorney to a partner.

Direct Access Benefits also asks domestic partner applicants to confirm that they're not in the relationship only to obtain health benefits.

Employers who choose to offer domestic partner benefits will decide whether their programs will cover only same-sex couples, only opposite-sex couples or both. Employers also must specify whether they will cover dependents.

If unmarried partners have dependent children, they likely will have to provide legal documentation proving their dependency, according to NAIC. This can get complicated in states that don't recognize both parties as legal parents if, for example, an employee is trying to get benefits for his or her partner's children.

Tax implications add another complication, according to NAIC. Health insurance benefits for domestic partners aren't exempt from federal taxes and may be recognized as taxable income. State tax exemptions can vary.

Going with the flow

The overall percentage of adults who were married declined to 54 percent in 2010 from 57 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And a Pew Research Center survey found that 68 percent of all 20-somethings were married in 1960; in 2008, just 26 percent were.

Employers seem to be following those trends. In a 2008 survey, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust found that 42 percent of employers surveyed offered health benefits to unmarried opposite-sex domestic partners and 39 percent surveyed offered health benefits to unmarried same-sex domestic partners.

Unmarried people whose domestic partners currently don't get insurance through their employer's plan might benefit from asking about coverage. In fact, according to the Graziadio Business Review, employers in the public and private sectors are recognizing that extending benefits to domestic partners is helpful in remaining attractive to top applicants.