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Senator Boxer Introduces Bill to Provide Equal Access to COBRA Health Coverage (S.3182)

Among the many federal rights and benefits denied to same-sex couples by the combination of marriage inequality and the federal Defense of Marriage Act is access to continued health care coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).  COBRA ensures that an employee and his or her spouse and dependent children can keep their employer-provided health insurance for a limited period after a qualifying event – usually the employee leaving or, particularly these days, losing his or her job.  The employee and his family usually pay for those benefits out of pocket, including additional administrative costs to the former employer, but that health insurance is still often cheaper than a plan in the individual market.  During the economic downturn, Congress has created subsidies to help families defray those costs. Unfortunately, same-sex couples and their families have neither the guarantee of continued coverage nor access to those subsidies.  Even if an employer offers domestic partner health benefits, as more and more companies do every day, they do not have to provide continued coverage of those benefits under COBRA.  And even if a fair-minded employer does so(as hundreds of Fortune-ranked companies have already done), a former employee’s domestic partner cannot be eligible for the COBRA subsidy.  So, yet again, despite being equally affected by economic hardships, same-sex couples are not equally protected by safety net programs like COBRA. Today, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced a bill, the Equal Access to COBRA Act of 2010 (S.3182), that would help address this inequality and ensure that domestic partners currently covered by employer health plans have access to COBRA benefits.  We applaud Senator Boxer for highlighting this important problem and working to address it, particularly in times when layoffs and job losses mean more and more people depend on COBRA benefits to protect their families’ health.  As Congress continues to focus on our economy and job creation, HRC will work with Senator Boxer to find opportunities to make this issue part of the discussion and move her legislation forward.

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