Same-sex marriage health insurance clusterfuckery

So, my primary employer, who forbids us to mention their name on the internet, just decided they're now going to start following the federal law to the letter and are going to start disallowing people with same-sex spouses from paying for the spouse's portion of the health insurance with pre-tax dollars and are going to tax the spouse (who is federally considered to be a legal stranger, thus not a dependent) on the health insurance benefits, since they're legally a gift since said spouse isn't legally a family member.

Previously, they'd done what most employers do, and entered the whole insurance premium as pre-tax just like they do for opposite-sex spouses, and left it up to each family to decide how they wanted to interpret the federal tax law, choosing to pay the extra gay tax if they wanted.

(I of course decided not to volunteer to pay the gay tax, deciding that if they wanted to come after me for it, I'd sue the federal government for sex discrimination and deprivation of life and liberty and all that, and I'd of course win, and then we'd have a federal decision stating that treating straight people and non-straight people differently is unconstitutional. Likewise, I'm sure the agency was in the clear, because they could also sue the IRS if the IRS asked them to please stop treating gay and straight employees the same. The IRS of course hasn't come after any individuals or businesses, because the federal government knows they'd lose a lawsuit, so they're not going to open themselves up to one.)

Fast forward to a few weeks ago: HR dude calls me and tells me they're now following the federal law to the letter and they're going to tax us for the insurance now. Not only that, but since the agency refuses to offer a two-person insurance plan like normal places do, our family with two adults who need workplace-purchased insurance has to buy a family plan for three times as much as a single plan, so they're considering the additional two-thirds to be the portion they're gifting to Molly. (You hear that, HR people at my agency and at others? Not having a two-person plan is homophobic. It hurts people who have to pay gay tax more than it hurts people who are federally married.)

I found some interesting articles about "grossing up," that is, employers choosing to increase the gross pay of people with same-sex spouses so that our take-home pay is equal to that of people with opposite-sex spouses. I knew that many large for-profit companies like Apple and Google do this, but I know this isn't going to make much of a case for my employer, since they're not our competitors. However, the City of Cambridge is a similar type of employer, and they're doing it. I also discovered that the HRC has a proposal outlining how an employer would do this and makes the point that not doing so could open the employer up to a discrimination case.

So today I was running some numbers, trying to figure out how I'm going to deal with our take-home pay being about $50 lower per week while still eating and paying bills. One thought I had was that since my employer is basically not offering my spouse insurance, maybe she could get MassHealth, and I could switch to the single plan at work. She's below the income cutoff. Nope, because we're married in Massachusetts, she can't get it, because I'm offered insurance through work. It doesn't matter that the insurance is ridiculously expensive because of the required family plan and the tax penalties.

So, here's what needs to happen for this situation to not be ridiculous:

1. The federal government needs to completely and entirely decide that marriage discrimination is unconstitutional, and require that all state governments and federal governments have equal marriage. Tell President Obama to support full equal marriage.

2. While that's in the works, we need to do something at the state level to require that all employers "gross up" to ensure that workers with same-sex and opposite-sex spouses are paid the same wages for equal work. I've created a separate page for this issue that people can redistribute to encourage people to write their legislators.

3. Until then, tell your employer to "gross up." Show them the article about the City of Cambridge and the HRC's proposal and explanation of how this works.

3a. Another thought I had was to have employers put the spouse on payroll and let the spouse purchase his or her own single-person plan. I know this is totally legit to do two singles if both spouses actually do work there, but not sure if it's legit to have someone who is making no wages but is paying for group insurance. Maybe someone else knows?

4. Also, tell the governor that it was a horrible idea to make MassHealth recognize same-sex marriage. That means fewer same-sex couples can get coverage, not more, since MassHealth is based on family income for married families. It's federal laws that are creating poorer access to healthcare for same-sex partners, and MassHealth is largely federally funded, so the feds should be picking up the bill for the people (like my spouse) who can't afford the discriminatory insurance offered by their spouse's employer and who don't have insurance offered through their own job. This isn't a case of people wanting marriage recognized only when convenient; since the feds actually don't recognize it at all, they don't get to recognize it only in order to get away with not providing MassHealth to some people. Also, the state, in the interest of equality, should provide more insurance options to people who can't afford to partake of the employer-sponsored insurance once the gay tax is added on.


Supergirl said...

The other option is also for Mass Health/Commonwealth Care to not be allowed to refuse to offer plans to people if their spouses have health insurance. People should have more choices, not less. If the state is worried about everyone suddenly refusing employer-based health insurance and going on Commonwealth Care, then this will force employer based health insurance to be more competitive. It will also force Mass Health/Commonwealth Care to make sure they're keeping up with the income guidelines and adjust premiums accordingly. I think it's fair for them to count both you and Molly's income in deciding what your premium should be, but you should have the right to choose Commonwealth Care over your employer's plan if you want to.

Barbara from Dorchester said...

This truly stinks. Years ago I got married to get reasonably priced health insurance. Now it sounds like you and Mollie would have to get divorced in order for her to do that!