In a double blow for marriage equality and healthcare reform, The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday, in a bulletin from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, that insurance companies must provide the same coverage to all married couples, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The agency issued the clarification letter in the form of an FAQ with only one question and answer.
Q: If a health insurance issuer in the group or individual market offers coverage of an opposite-sex spouse, may the issuer refuse to offer coverage of a same-sex spouse?
The bulletin goes on to say that “health insurance coverage cannot employ marketing
practices or benefit designs that discriminate on the basis of certain specified factors. One such factor is an individual’s sexual orientation.”
And while the CMS letter says insurers won’t be expected to come into full compliance until Jan. 1, 2015, it encourages them to “implement this clarification for the 2014 coverage year.”
All of this comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act, leading the federal government to recognize legal same-sex marriages. A married same-sex couple from Ohio then filed a lawsuit against the Federal government on Feb. 18 after being denied a policy through the Federal health insurance exchange because Ohio does not recognize same-sex marriage.
Matthew Heinz, Director of Provider and LGBT Outreach with HHS, explained the move in a blog post.
“Today, we are clarifying that, starting next year, if an insurance company offers coverage to opposite-sex spouses, it cannot choose to deny that coverage to same-sex spouses. In other words, insurance companies will not be permitted to discriminate against married same-sex couples when offering coverage. This will further enhance access to health care for all Americans, including those with same-sex spouses.”
HHS spokeswoman Alicia Hartinger said in a statement that HHS and CMS recognize “the importance of all Americans and their families having access to quality, affordable coverage.”
“We will continue to work with states and issuers to help ensure all Americans have an equal opportunity to purchase the new coverage options available to them,” she added.