N.C. Blue Cross doesn’t recognize married gay couples, yet

Company says it will offer new plans in 2015

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: January 21, 2014 in News

bluecrossblueshieldOriginally published:
Jan. 21, 2014, 11:55 a.m.
Updated:
Jan. 23, 2014, 10:40 a.m.

[Ed. Note — Read a full statement from BCBSNC, released on Jan. 22, at the end of this story.]

UPDATE: BCBSNC announced on Jan. 29 they will extend family coverage to same-sex couples starting Feb. 3. Read more…

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) doesn’t yet offer coverage for married same-sex couples with new insurance plans offered under the federal Affordable Care Act, according to spokespeople and a story originally reported by Raleigh ABC affiliate WTVD.

A married couple in Moore County, N.C., Thomas Hafke and Chad Higby, say they feel ripped off by the discrimination. They were married in Washington, D.C., last October and have been in a relationship for 11 years. After signing up for an insurance plan and paying their premiums, BCBSNC told them their plan was no good. They received a phone call shortly after receiving their insurance cards in the mail.

“It was the head of customer service for Blue Cross Blue Shield,” Hafke told WTVD. “She asked me if I had a same-sex spouse. I said ‘Yes,’ and she was like, ‘Sorry, we are going to have to cancel your policy!’”

The problem, says BCBSNC, is that North Carolina doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. A BCBSNC spokesperson told qnotes the problem is technical.

“We don’t have ability to offer domestic partnership coverage to either same-sex or heterosexual couples,” the spokesperson said.

Currently, the company allows large companies or other group policy customers to opt-in to domestic partner employees for their policy holders. Individual plans under the federal Affordable Care Act currently don’t have that option, even though the federal government recognizes marriages between same-sex couples.

However, the insurance company is working to implement technical changes that would allow for coverage of domestic partners in 2015.

Despite the problems facing married same-sex couples in the state, BCBSNC has had a long history of LGBT community support. They often sponsor LGBT-inclusive causes and larger events like Charlotte’s annual Human Rights Campaign Carolina Gala and Charlotte Pride, as well as the LGBT Center of Raleigh’s Out Raleigh festival.

BCBSNC received a score of 85 on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2014 Corporate Equality Index. The company lost 15 points specifically because it does not offer insurance plans for same-sex couples.

[Ed. Note — The following is a statement released by BCBSNC on their website on Jan. 22. The statement below was added to this story on Jan. 23, 10:40 a.m.]

Domestic Partners and the Affordable Care Act in North Carolina

The Affordable Care Act has created enrollment issues for thousands of North Carolinians, and recently we’ve received specific questions regarding enrollment for domestic partners.

Currently, while some large employers (including ourselves) choose to cover domestic partners, that option isn’t yet available for our small group or individual customers. However, we are implementing changes that will allow us to offer domestic partner coverage to those groups by January 2015.

But there are a couple of important things to note regarding this issue.

For individual ACA policies, there isn’t a “family” premium. Instead, each person under the policy receives an individual premium rate based on specific criteria: age, geographic location and tobacco use. That means each individual is rated separately, and then the individual rates are added together. From a rate perspective, domestic partners wouldn’t be penalized from a price or coverage sense—though they would receive two separate bills and ID cards.

Additionally, there has been some confusion for some of our customers since the Federal exchanges makes a domestic option available, but we are not yet able to offer individual policies for domestic partners. We’re working to correct this.

Since we’ve been made aware of the issue, we have reached out to approximately 20 enrollees who submitted applications for domestic partner coverage through the Federal exchange. We let them know that we were unable to process the applications as submitted. And that includes both same sex and opposite sex domestic partners.

During the process of reaching out to these customers, we advised and offered to help them to re-enroll in our Blue Advantage product separately for individual coverage. And in cases where each individual could qualify for a subsidy, we advised them on that process. We’re also working with them to make sure there’s no lapse in coverage.