How to Get Health Insurance for Your Domestic Partner

 

If you’re unmarried and get health insurance through your partner’s job, you should know that some employers are rethinking domestic partner benefits.

Now that all couples in United States have the right to marry, a small percentage of employers have decided to stop offering benefits to domestic partners of employees. Of the employers that plan to make that change, one survey shows that most will do so in 2017.

“With the June 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, some employers are weighing whether to continue offering domestic partnership coverage,” the National Business Group on Health stated in its recently released 2017 Large Employers Health Plan Design Survey.

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Some companies already have made the change. Surveys on health insurance by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans show that 4 percent fewer employers offer domestic partner benefits now than in 2014, says Julie Stich, vice-president of content for the IFEBP.

In 2014, 45 percent of employers surveyed offered domestic partner benefits to all couples, while 52 percent offered the benefits only to same-sex couples. By 2016, the number of companies offering domestic partner benefits to all couples had dropped to 41 percent and the number offering the benefits only to same-sex couples had dropped to 48 percent.

“It has fallen a little bit, but not a huge amount,” Stich says of the number of companies offering domestic partner benefits.

How do domestic partner benefits work?

In general, employers that have offered benefits to domestic partners can be divided into two groups, says Kenneth Matos, vice-president of research for consulting firm Life Meets Work:

  1. Employers that began offering domestic partner benefits as a “Band-Aid” because same sex couples couldn’t legally marry across the United States. 
  1. Employers that began offering domestic partner benefits as “just another option” to make their benefits more inclusive of different types of relationships. 

A 2015 IFEBP survey on domestic partner benefits found that, of the employers who offered domestic partner benefits to all couples, 80 percent said they planned to continue to do so in the future. Of the companies that offered domestic partner benefits only to same-sex couples, 70 percent planned to continue to do so.

The survey also showed that 93 percent of employers that said they planned to do away with domestic partner benefits fall into the first group, citing the legality of same-sex marriage as their reason for discontinuing the benefits.

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Companies that fall into the second group are less likely to do away with domestic partner benefits because they don’t want to get involved in the details of employees’ private lives and they want their employees to feel supported and able to focus on their work, Matos says. That attitude on the part of the employer “makes a more inclusive work environment,” he says.

Companies have a variety of reasons for offering domestic partner benefits. The 2015 IFEBP survey on domestic partner benefits found that companies that planned to continue offering the benefits to all employees gave the following reasons: 

  • A desire to attract and retain quality employees (53 percent)
  • A wish to recognize all types of families (42 percent)
  • A feeling that it’s the right thing to do (36 percent) 

The growth of new companies offering domestic partner benefits may slow with fewer advocacy groups pressing the issue, but the practice will not go away, Matos says. “It’s not just going to disappear,” he says. 

Losing your domestic partner health benefits?

If you use domestic partner benefits, remember that the majority of companies that offer this option will continue to do so. Also, large bureaucratic companies might be less likely to get rid of the option because doing so “is a lot of work,” Matos says. 

However, you may want to keep an eye out for changes in the coming year and consider shopping around for an inclusive health insurance policy. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, one survey showed that 70 percent of employers that had decided to do away with domestic partner benefits in the wake of the same-sex marriage decision said they planned to make the change in 2017.

About 23 percent had planned to drop the benefits before 2017, while only 7 percent stated they’d wait until 2018 or later.

If you use domestic partner benefits, check to make sure you didn’t miss a notice from human resources about any planned changes, Matos recommends. Also consider asking an HR representative whether your company has any plans to discontinue domestic partner benefits. “It might help to have a little forewarning,” he says.

It also can’t hurt to tell HR how much you value the benefits, Stich says.

If your company is dropping domestic partner benefits, you may have to re-evaluate your situation to see what health insurance plans are available to you at what cost, and even consider whether marriage makes more sense for you and your partner now, Matos says.

“There has been so much change that people should stop and make sure that what they’re doing is still best scenario for them now,” Matos says.