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Bill Extends COBRA Health Insurance to Same-Sex Partners

April 5, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Included in the various unemployment benefits that expired this week thanks to Congressional inaction is a 65 percent subsidy for COBRA health insurance. But even with this subsidy in place, there are still millions of Americans, both unmarried opposite-sex couples and unable-to-be-married same sex couples, that can’t purchase COBRA insurance in the first place. A bill introduced last month by Sen. Barbara Boxer [D, CA] aims to change this.

Boxer’s Equal Access to COBRA Act (S.3182) would give same-sex partners, same and opposite-sex domestic partners, as well as qualified siblings, parents and grandparents the ability to purchase health insurance through COBRA.

The 1986 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, allows individuals who receive health insurance from an employer to temporarily purchase coverage at lower group rates after losing that job. Spouses and dependents of the former employee are also eligible for COBRA coverage. But under the Defense of Marriage Act, a same sex-partner can’t be a spouse since same-sex marriages aren’t federally recognized.

While some companies allow unmarried partners to purchase health insurance under company rates, not all do – nor are they legally obliged to unlike for opposite-sex spouses. And as notes, there even is a disparity between the number of companies that offer benefits to unmarried same-sex versus opposite-sex couples:

[O]nly 21 percent of U.S. employers even offer same-sex partner benefits, versus 31 percent that cover unmarried opposite-sex partners. Larger firms and ones in the west and northeast are more likely to offer such benefits, but far from all do so.

Not only that, but many people who need insurance for a same-sex partner hesitate to ask for it because they fear losing their jobs. In 29 states, it is still legal for employers to discriminate against an employee on the basis of sexual orientation.

Of course, the bill applies not only to same sex couples. As the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, notes, millions of unmarried opposite-sex couples could also benefit from this bill:

Nontraditional families, including domestic partnerships, same-sex marriages, and multigenerational families are increasingly common. There are 6.6 million opposite-sex unmarried partners, nearly 800,000 same-sex couples, and 16 percent of Americans living in a multigenerational household, according to new research from the Pew Research Center.

Limiting benefits only to those who are married is discriminatory and excludes tens of millions of people from basic benefits. This bill would be an important step to equality among American families.

The bill is currently in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and has no sponsors other than Sen. Boxer.


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  • kidCobras 09/28/2010 6:59pm

    Basic principles of COBRA Insurance plans

    The federal COBRA legislation was initially enacted in 1986 and is supposed to guarantee that individuals and families can keep their particular health care insurance after the loss of employment. Under the federal COBRA legislation covered employees and their beneficiaries qualify for up to 1 . 5 years of health plan insurance coverage provided there is a qualifying event and work under a qualified plan. Typically a qualifying event is any kind of event that triggers somebody to lose benefits, either voluntarily as well as involuntarily, so long as it is not due to gross wrong doings. Usually qualifying plans are those that cover no less than 20 full-time employees. COBRA monthly premiums costs 102% of the premium paid by the firm and employee. For the majority of families this ends up being around $13,000 per year.

  • kidCobras 09/28/2010 7:01pm

    COBRA vs Alternative Insurance Options The fact that Cobra Insurance can be incredibly costly, it is advisable to take a look at alternatives to COBRA in which they may be able to find a less expensive insurance policy. Popular alternatives to COBRA insurance plans are individual health insurance, private family insurance, short term health insurance, high deductible insurance, and catastrophic insurance. Each plan comes with distinct insurance policy coverage, deductibles, and co-payments, as well as expenses. The least expensive options are short term, catastrophic, and high deductible health plans. Nonetheless, individual medical insurance and private family health insurance provide more extensive long-term coverage that’s probably a better option for many of us and still cheaper compared to COBRA most of the time. To see a side-by-side comparison visit Cobra Insurance Benefits

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