Federal law permits adding a pet to one’s health plan, but not a same-sex partner

By Sahil Kapur
Friday, October 15, 2010 9:15 EDT
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Federal employees can use their insurance plans to buy coverage for a cat or dog — but not a same-sex partner.

Igor Volsky of Think Progress on Wednesday night picked up on an email from Aetna to federal employees covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program, which illuminates how brazenly the law shortchanges same-sex couples.

“In these challenging economic times,” reads the email, “it’s good to know you can get some financial protection for unexpected illness and injury to your pets.” It then lists the various benefits.

Volsky notes: “The insurance is a handsome perk for those who can afford it, but what’s illuminating about the ad is that while federal employees can buy pet insurance ‘in these challenging economic times,’ LGBT workers are still prohibited from purchasing policies for their partners or spouses by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — a federal law which denies federal benefits to legally married same sex couples.”

The federal statute under DOMA essentially ensures that the government goes out of its way to deny married gay couples the kinds of incremental benefits that insurance companies deem appropriate for even pets.

DOMA, however, might be on its way out. A federal judge in Boston struck it down in Massachusetts, declaring unconstitutional the provisions that he said forces states to “discriminate against its own citizens.”

The Obama administration has repeatedly spoken out against the 1990s era law, calling it discriminatory and declaring its desire to see it repealed. But the Justice Department is expected to appeal the judge’s decision, arguing that presidents ought not to decide which laws are appropriate or not appropriate to defend based on ideology.

President Obama has this year expanded federal benefits available to same-sex partners of government employees, Reuters reported in June, such as “family assistance services, hardship transfers and relocation expenses.”

In August, a CNN poll found that a majority of Americans believed same-sex couples deserve the opportunity to attain full marriage rights — the first time that threshold was crossed in a major national poll.

The email from Aetna, also available here, is below:

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