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Employers scramble to deal with same-sex marriage

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Hoosier employers had plenty of questions Wednesday after a federal judge declared Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriages to be unconstitutional.

Most employers offer health, retirement and leave benefits that cover or refer to spouses. But before the ruling by federal judge Richard Young, only about one in 10 Hoosier employers had extended those benefits to same-sex partners.

“There were basically 20 some e-mails yesterday saying, 'What does this mean?'” said Kevin Sliwa, a health benefits consultant for employers at Indianapolis-based MJ Insurance.

Young’s ruling declared that Indiana’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. His ruling sparked a request for a stay and a plan to appeal by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller. Young is mulling whether to stay his decision, but in the meantime, same-sex marriages are happening in Indiana.

That means employers very likely could see some of their employees get legally married, which typically makes their spouses immediately eligible for benefits.

“People are legally married today, and marriage is a qualifying event” for health benefits, Sliwa said. “And technically, we need to allow those people onto the plan.”

To do that, employers likely need to change the language in their benefits plan documents, eliminating definitions of spouses that say “husband or wife” and instead define spouses as a person “to whom you are legally married in the state in which you reside,” or, possibly, “to whom you were legally married in the state in which you were legally married.”

The number of workers in same-sex domestic relationships appears to be relatively low. According to 2012 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 percent of households in the nation are made up of same-sex couples, and 74 percent of those same-sex households had at least one of the partners employed.

However, the number of employers that currently do not offer medical or life insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners is high in Indiana—91 percent, according to a 2013 analysis by the actuarial firm Milliman Inc.

Employers that have workers in multiple states have been the most likely to offer such benefits, noted Mike Moffatt, a labor and employment attorney at the Indianapolis office of the San Francisco law firm Littler Mendelson.

“Employers that are just Indiana employers, and don’t have employees that are on a national level, probably haven’t done anything on leave and domestic partners benefits, because they haven’t had to,” Moffatt said, noting that the Indiana Legislature has been trying to pass an amendment to the Indiana constitution that would have strengthened the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

Wednesday’s ruling does not necessarily require all employers to change their benefits plans, although Sliwa said all of his clients were leaning that way. Still, employers could say they are waiting to offer benefits to same-sex spouses until the court rulings have been ultimately decided. Moffatt expects the numerous federal court decisions striking down same-sex marriage bans to wend their way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Also, employers that operate their own health benefits plans—called self-funded or self-insured plans—might still be allowed to deny health benefits to same-sex spouses, even in states that recognize those marriages. That is how a federal court in New York ruled earlier this year.

But Moffatt said he would still advise his clients to make the changes now because he expects the costs of not doing so will outweigh the benefits.

 “I also would tell my clients, ‘Do you want to be the case employer that gets sued if you don’t?'” Moffatt said.

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  • Says your God
    and only in the Old Testament. What other parts of Leviticus would you like to enforce by law?
  • Answer to your question
    Says God. Talk to Him about it.
  • What???
    This comment that says marriage is for having children--SAYS WHO? And how are you harmed by any couple who decides to wed? Without resorting to the Sodom Bible Myth, tell us how such a marriage would harm you.
    • Bologna
      "Permanent union". Yeah right, except 50% of the time when it ends in divorce. Get over it buddy; gay marriage haters lost and are going to have to deal with it.
    • Define marriage honestly
      Is gay marriage the same as opposite sex marriage? It is not. If gay want to join together go ahead, but stop trying to say it is the same as hetro. There are key differences and the ones who need to pull their head out of the sand are those that refuse to acknowledge this. Hetro marriage is a comprehensive, exclusive, permanent union that is intrinsically ordered to producing new life. It does not mean you must have new life, but it is ordered to produce it. That is different. If we don't define this properly, the next thing to come is thruples, mark may word, there was already a story about it in Atlanta.
      • Insurance Companies Offering Coverage
        Is my understanding correct that the following companies have been offering same-sex partner coverage options in Indiana for some time? Ameritas, CIGNA, Great West Life, New York Life and Health
      • Self Funded Plans
        Shannon, those are self funded plans where the company create the health plan based on what they want.
        • Why Wait for 2015 Mandate?
          Why wait for the 2015 federal mandate? According to the HealthCare.gov website: "For coverage starting in 2015, an insurance company that offers health coverage to opposite-sex spouses must do the same for same-sex spouses. Many insurers already offer this protection." Numerous Indiana employers (large and small) have been extending same-sex spouse/partner benefits for some time, including: Cummins Fort Wayne Metals Research Corporation Indiana University Lilly Luther Consulting Print Resources
          • Tax Code
            On some of the group plans that allow same sex coverage, the spouse will get 1099 for the benefits. Right now there are no small group Indiana based contracts that cover same sex. On the exchange there is no coverage for same sex because the marriage has to be legal in the state. Furthermore to get tax credits on the exchange you must file taxes jointly. This topic has a long way to go.
            • Slow Anthem/BCBS!
              In January of this year, and again yesterday, I submitted a request to my employer's Anthem/BCBS agent about status of my same-gender spouse's eligibility for coverage as my legal spouse (we married in CA in December). Even with yesterday's federal court ruling, I'm advised by the agent that Anthem advises "It may be awhile for all of this to settle out ..." and that confirmation and clarification of how Anthem will handle this moving forward is yet to be determined! Repeal of DOMA, a year ago today, and state-after-state federal court rulings, since then, should have made a plan at Anthem a high-level imperative (at least to have answers prepared for inquiring insured parties). I’m disappointed and frustrated to see that a company of Anthem’s scale is reactionary and, apparently, befuddled over this — especially considering that Anthem has already had to address this matter in other states since DOMA’s repeal and, probably, long before.
            • Slow Hoosiers
              Always seems that Hoosiers have their head's in the sand. The train has left the platform and why have Indiana companies not prepared before yesterday!
              • Discrimination
                Wonder if now since can be married, if the discriminatory practice do offering benefits to same sex partners but not hetro partners, will cease?

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