When it comes to health care benefits for domestic partners, eligibility for these benefits has been a matter of local and state laws as well as employer choice. Prior to the 2016 US Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States, many employers extended these benefits to their employees in domestic partnerships. Since the historic ruling, there has been a significant trend of employers (private and public) moving away from offering these benefits.
Affordable care act (ACA)
If an employer doesn’t offer these benefits, there may be an opportunity for registered domestic partners to apply for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act’s new health insurance marketplace. Unfortunately, how it is treated varies according to the state in which you live.
California, Nevada and Washington provide that when applying for health benefits through the state’s marketplace, domestic partners are usually required to apply half of their partners’ combined incomes to determine the costs of their health plans and potentially eligibility for subsidies. This is due to the respective state’s community property laws and the impact of the IRS code (combined community income reported on annual taxes).
An exception to having to apply with combined income in the community property states would be if the couple has a valid pre-registration agreement in place. In this case, they would be able to apply using their own income only.
Domestic partners in the remaining states applying through their state’s health insurance exchange are required to file separately, thus only using their own income to determine the costs and potential subsidies.
Domestic partnerships and ACA health care benefits
Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, domestic partners are subject to state, employer and tax filing statuses. This includes health care coverage through employers as well as the ACA exchanges. In some events, there are health care insurance carriers that will extend coverage to domestic partners, but these will vary and must be looked into.
For those domestic partners seeking health care coverage through their employer, they are most often going to be subject to the employer’s decision whether or not to extend them to alternative relationships. When employers do elect to extend these benefits to domestic partners, in most instances, they are required to provide the same or similar benefits as are provided to employees who are legally married.
For those seeking to gain health care insurance through an exchange, in most situations, domestic partners are not eligible for cost assistance on a family plan. In those situations where domestic partners can file jointly, it is important to consider the costs assistance (and total costs) individually, as sometimes this can result in better assistance (and lower premiums).