Question

I am a local employer. I recently heard that a new law was passed that may require me to provide insurance benefits to domestic partners. What is this new law, and what effect will it have on me as an employer?

Answer:

The California Insurance Equality Act, Assembly Bill 2208, is a non-discrimination statute that bars insurance companies from issuing insurance policies or plans that treat registered domestic partners and married spouses in a different way. The Act makes it illegal for an insurance provider to issue an insurance policy or plan covered by the Act that fails to provide registered domestic partners the identical coverage that is provided for spouses. The Act also requires that all insurance policies and plans that provide benefits to spouses or registered domestic partners provide them to both spouses and registered domestic partners in an identical manner. Prior to the Act, the law only required that domestic partner coverage be offered.

In order to qualify and be guaranteed coverage under this new law, domestic partners must file a valid Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the State of California. Insurance providers can request verification of domestic partnership status and domestic partnership dissolution only if it also requests verification of marital status and marital dissolution. Domestic partners who have not filed such a declaration may still be eligible for expanded health coverage benefits under local city ordinances.

This new law applies to other types of insurance regulated by the California Insurance Code including auto, rental, life, accident, and disability insurance policies. For example, a life insurance company that automatically extends coverage to the spouse of a policyholder must also provide the same coverage to the registered domestic partner of a policyholder. The new law applies to group medical insurance policies and HMO plans that are delivered, issued, amended or renewed effective on or after January 2, 2005, which means that plans with 12-month policies in place by January 1, 2005 have until January 1, 2006 to comply. For all other types of insurance, the effective date is January 1, 2005.

The law requires insurers to inform employers of the equal coverage requirement. However, as an employer, you should be aware that although the statute is aimed at insurers, and the law currently does not require employers to provide coverage for spouses or registered domestic partners, employers who provide insurance benefits to spouses would only be able to buy a plan that provides equal coverage for registered domestic partners. Thus, employers providing coverage to spouses should contact their insurance representatives to ensure that they have the required coverage in place.

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