50 + 1

On Being a Gay Parent

I am currently on the Board of a local non-profit, assigned to the Personnel and Diversity Committee. In reviewing our policies on healthcare benefit packages for full-time non-LGBTQ employees and their families, I sought reassurance that we offered the same healthcare benefits plan to our full-time LGBTQ employees and their families. I was taken aback in learning that we did not provide the same benefits plan for full-time LGBTQ members with a domestic partner and a child or children. With a gut sense that there was an injustice being perpetrated, our Committee assigned the non-profit organization’s human resource person with the responsibility of investigating the policies of our current insurance company.

This is where it gets interesting: In order that our full-time LGBTQ employees have equal access to purchase the benefits plan that is available to our non-LGBTQ full-time employees and their spouses and children, the non-profit organization first needs 50 non-LGBTQ full-time employees! Once there are 50 employees, then an LGBTQ employee may have access to participate in the healthcare benefits that are given to the non-LGBTQ employees. 50+1 is the magic equation. However, because there are instances where there may be a drop below that magic number, in reality an employer needs to have closer to 60 employees to make this work. Both of the major health care providers of North Carolina —- United Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of NC -— have this rule.

Incredulous, I asked Equality North Carolina executive director Ian Palmquist about this rule of thumb among insurance providers. Ian contacted the Insurance Commissioner’s office, which said that there was no law that stipulated this magic, arbitrary number within the state of North Carolina. The 50+1 rule seems to be something shared between the healthcare providers. Ian stated that not even the employees of Equality North Carolina who are LGBTQ are provided with domestic partner benefits because of this 50+1 issue.

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I have placed phone calls with both United Health and BCBS and am waiting for phone calls back from them for their rationale for this seemingly arbitrary rule. This story will continue.

As a child, I grew up in a family in which I always had health care insurance. My children grew up with health care insurance coverage. The coverage keeps us from going bankrupt when an illness or unexpected hospitalization occurs in my family. I am well aware of the privilege it is to have access to health care in this country and glad for the financial means to purchase health care. And, I write this column amid new rules that came into effect recently, in which my young adult daughter can now be covered up to her 26th birthday and children with pre-existing health conditions who were once denied health care, must be given access, thanks to hard-fought laws that came into effect. That is why I was surprised to trip over this act of injustice as a board member at the non-profit organization I serve. The rule is arbitrary from what I can tell, though others have suggested to me that some organizations may keep under the 50 person limit in order to not provide benefits to LGBTQ people simply because they are LGBTQ people, especially in the case of being in a domestic partner relationship or having a child or children. All that we are asking for is equal access to purchase or be covered under the same health care benefits as non-LGBTQ people. It is time for 50+1 to be part of our past, yet not forgotten. This is but one more way that society at-large shows its bias against LGBTQ people and our families. In turn, we need to strive in being sure others have equal access to health care benefits, regardless of the number of full-time employees.

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