Equal Access to COBRA Act
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) mandates that employees, their spouses and dependent children be allowed to continue participation in their employer-sponsored health coverage, usually at their own expense, after certain qualifying events, most commonly when the employee leaves or loses his or her job. However, there is no requirement that COBRA benefits be made available to an employee’s same-sex partner or spouse, or even the children of that partner or spouse in many cases. As a result, when more and more Americans are depending on continuation health coverage to protect the health of their families, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and their loved ones do not have equal access to this important safety net.
What is the Equal Access to COBRA Act?
The Equal Access to COBRA Act would require employers to provide COBRA continuation coverage to any persons who are covered under the employer’s group health plan prior to an employee’s COBRA qualifying event, including same-sex partners and spouses. Thus, to the extent that an employer sponsors a plan that allows an employee to elect coverage for his or her same-sex partner or spouse, and an employee elects such coverage for his or her same-sex partner or spouse and then has a qualifying COBRA event, the employer would be required to extend COBRA continuation coverage to the employee’s same-sex partner. The bill does not create a new mandate on employers to provide domestic partner health benefits to active employees, but simply ensures that the families of LGBTQ employees already depending on employer-provided health coverage are not denied the ability to continue that coverage under COBRA should the need arise. The bill would also provide equal access to these LGBTQ families to very important federal COBRA premium assistance, as mentioned above.
Despite the fact that federal law does not require it, more than 500 companies, including over 260 Fortune 500 corporations, voluntarily make COBRA-like continuation coverage available to the domestic partners of their employees.
Action in the 112th Congress
The Equal Access to COBRA Act was originally introduced in the House by former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) on March 10, 2011 (H.R. 1028), and is now sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). The bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on March 10, 2011.
What is the Current Status of the Bill?
The Equal Access to COBRA Act is expected to soon be reintroduced in the 113th Congress.
Last Updated: Thursday, June 23, 2011.