Just as the cultural norms surrounding long-term romantic partnerships have changed over time, so has the health insurance industry. If you are not married but share a household with a committed, long-term partner, domestic partner health insurance may be the right option for you.
What is a Domestic Partnership?
Domestic Partnerships, as defined by the United States Office of Personnel Management, are committed relationships between two unmarried partners of the same or opposite sex with the following stipulations:
- The partners are and intend to remain one another’s only domestic partner.
- They live together in a shared residence.
- The members of the partnership are both at least 18 years old.
- The partners share financial responsibility.
- Both partners are not married or a member of a joint civil union with anyone else.
What is Domestic Partner Health Insurance?
Domestic partner health insurance is the extension of a health insurance plan to one’s domestic partner. In granting domestic partner coverage, insurance providers or employers recognize these relationships and provide the same health insurance benefits as they would to a married couple.
An employer or insurance provider’s recognition of a domestic partnership—just like in its recognition of marriage— allots the associated partner coverage in employee benefits packages. Additionally, this is often the best option for a domestic partnership member who wants to avoid high insurance rates.
Who Qualifies for Domestic Partner Health Insurance?
In short, there are no universal qualifications for domestic partner health insurance, as federal law does not account for or clearly define domestic partnerships. As outlined by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the standards for two individuals to be legally recognized as domestic partners vary from state to state.
State and Employer Recognition of Domestic Partnerships
The issue of domestic partner health insurance is not a guaranteed right and depends upon state laws. In California, health care providers and employers must recognize domestic partnerships and provide the same benefit plan to partners as they would to spouses. Yet, in Texas, employers and insurance companies are free to choose whether or not they want to provide domestic partners coverage.
Healthcare.gov defines domestic partnership but notes that its significance varies from state to state, citing hospital visitation rights as a factor that depends on a given state’s laws. To know for certain if you qualify, you will have to conduct the necessary research to determine if your state and insurance provider or employer will recognize your domestic partnership.
Suppose your state and employer do recognize domestic partnerships and issue domestic partner health insurance. In that case, you and your partner are entitled to the same benefits and healthcare rates as a married couple.
Do Children of Domestic Partners Qualify?
If your insurance provider or employer issues you domestic partner health insurance, your partner’s children should be eligible for the family plans your provider supplies.
Coverage of children typically includes any biological children, step-children, and legally adopted children in either partner’s custody. However, the extent of coverage is contingent on the type of health insurance. Like many factors in the healthcare industry, these kinds of benefits are determined on a case-by-case basis.
Steps to Take When Signing Up for Domestic Partner Benefits
If you’re seeking domestic partnership health insurance coverage, certain measures will make the process more manageable.
Do Your Research and Communicate
It’s important to determine if your state and insurance provider or employer will acknowledge a domestic partnership and issue domestic partnership health insurance. The first step you should take is to reach out to your employer and inquire about their policies.
If your employer does not provide domestic partnership coverage, there are options to find a plan that extends coverage via insurance exchanges or private insurance companies.
In circumstances like these, you can discuss waiving employee insurance or negotiating a new deal altogether, which can be reached if you communicate with your company’s human resources representative.
Another approach is to scope out your partner’s employee benefits packages to see if their employer may offer domestic partners coverage. When it comes to obtaining quality coverage, communication is key.
Be Prepared to Prove Your Domestic Partnership
In states that recognize a domestic partnership, qualifying for domestic partner health insurance comes down to meeting the stipulations outlined in the state’s definition of domestic partnership and providing adequate proof of adherence to said stipulations.
Many insurance providers will ask for documents to prove you and your partner legally live up to the title of “domestic partners” in lieu of a marriage license presented for spousal benefit plans.
The documentation necessary to become registered domestic partners could include:
- A title, deed, or mortgage agreement documenting joining ownership of a vehicle or property to prove responsibility for living expenses.
- Joint bank account, credit card, or loan information to prove shared financial responsibility in joint domestic life.
- Driver’s licenses or other identification for proof of living in a shared residence.
- Documentation to prove designation as a primary beneficiary for life insurance, retirement benefits, or power of will or assignment of power of attorneys to prove the intention of longevity in the partnership.
In many cases, proof of domestic partnership comes in the form of an affidavit. Often, insurance companies will provide guidelines for what these affidavits require, which require confirmation of the same kinds of standards the US Office of Personnel Management outlines.
In other cases, states will issue legal recognition of partnerships through a process requiring the types of the documentation listed above, which insurance companies willingly accept as proof of registered domestic partnership.
How Do You Know if Domestic Partner Health Insurance is the Best Option For You?
Choosing the best health plan for you and those you care about comes down to weighing your options.
Identify Your Needs
The best way to know if domestic partner health insurance is the right fit is to do the necessary research to determine if the benefits you will receive under your insurance provider or company’s plan will fit your specific needs.
The Insurance Information Institute recommends considering if one employed partner dropping insurance to be added to the other’s plan makes sense financially. They suggest evaluating possible payroll deductions, deductibles, and whether each partner’s personal doctors would be covered after making a switch.
Additionally, suppose you cannot provide the necessary proof of eligibility for a legal domestic partnership as outlined by your insurance provider or state. In that case, another plan might be a better option.
If your employer does not offer the health plan you and your domestic partner need, you can always consider asking for them to add on domestic employee benefits. While there is no guarantee that they will comply, there is also no monetary basis for them to deny coverage. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation cites a 2000 Hewitt’s Association Survey, which concluded that domestic partners’ health coverage is not more expensive than coverage for spouses or dependents.
Consider All the Factors
Making decisions about healthcare is personal, and many factors influence the unique scenario you might find yourself in.
Same-Sex Marriage Legislation and Opposite-Sex Domestic Partnerships
Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships were a means through which states and employers granted same-sex couples insurance benefits equivalent to those of legal spouses.
In 2015, certain companies rescinded domestic partnership health insurance coverage in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage. These companies argued that because they did not recognize opposite-sex domestic partnerships and only offered benefits to married opposite-sex couples, it would be fair to require same-sex couples to marry to retain benefits.
The National Center for Family and Marriage Research’s projected increase in the amount of opposite-sex domestic partnerships in the United States suggests a cultural shift in the nature of long-term romantic relationships from historically accepted norms.
In deciding which healthcare plan is the best, you should never feel pressured by your employer to change your marital status. If your employer does not provide domestic partner insurance, you can seek out another option. Always make the healthcare choice that works best for you.
Domestic Partnership and Income Taxes
When deciding if domestic partnership insurance is right for you, consider the tax implications. Though domestic partnership health insurance is an extension of insurance policies allotted for marriage to domestic partnerships, federal law does not recognize domestic partnerships.
Consequently, there are no protections for partners regarding federal taxes and domestic partners cannot be listed as tax dependents.
According to the IRS, premiums paid for a domestic partner and dependents under a domestic partnership health plan are considered taxable income. So, domestic partner benefits are not always the best choice for tax purposes.
The Significance of Domestic Partnership Health Insurance
Despite the fact that domestic partnership has not been recognized at the federal level thus far, the insurance industry and many individual states’ recognition of this lifestyle marks a significant shift in our cultural understanding of relationships in America.
Domestic partnerships have historically helped same-sex partners and families attain similar benefits to opposite-sex partners and families. Additionally, domestic partnerships’ existence and recognition have changed how we think about households, families, and relationships today.