Washington, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, released new guidance clarifying that the Affordable Care Act prohibits insurers from discriminating against same-sex spouses who wish to purchase health coverage as a family.
The announcement comes in the wake of cases from states such as North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ohio where insurance companies selling plans through the health insurance marketplaces barred same-sex spouses enrolling in family coverage. The new guidance clarifies that the Affordable Care Act’s protections against discriminatory marketing practices and benefits designs require insurers selling spousal or other family coverage through the marketplaces in any state to make the same coverage available to legally married same-sex couples.
“Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex spouses are entitled to the same rights and protections as any other couple under federal law. This action by HHS is a significant step forward in ensuring that the benefits of health reform reach all who need them, including same-sex spouses and their families,” said Laura Durso, Director of the LGBT Research and Communication Project at the Center for American Progress.
“Research has shown that same-sex couples, as well as transgender people and other members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, communities, frequently face obstacles to affordable, comprehensive insurance coverage,” said Kellan Baker, Director of CAP’s LGBT State Exchanges Project. “My colleagues and I look forward to working with HHS to ensure that this guidance is fully implemented in a timely manner and that similar action is taken remove other barriers to coverage, such as discriminatory insurance exclusions that target transgender people.”
The guidance strongly encourages insurers to comply with its requirements before the end of the open enrollment period on March 31, although companies have until the beginning of the next plan year—January 1, 2015—to fully bring their policies in line with federal requirements. It does not speak to whether family coverage must also be available to domestic partners or people in civil unions.