January 21, 2014; Q Notes
Apparently, there are 20 couples who have been called by the head of customer service at the nonprofit insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) to let them know that, although they had signed up for the new insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, BCBSNC is cancelling their contracts. The agency says the problem is technical, only applies to individuals, and emanates from the fact that North Carolina does not yet recognize same-sex marriage.
BCBSNC says it is in the process of implementing technical changes that would provide for coverage of domestic partners in 2015. A statement on the BCBSNC website acknowledges “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.”
According to this article, BCBSNC has had a long history of LGBT community support and it provides coverage to gay employees and their partners.
An article in the Charlotte Observer says that “the problem is traced to boilerplate terminology in Blue Cross policies that define ‘spouse’ as ‘opposite sex.’ North Carolina insurance law does not prohibit selling coverage to homosexual couples, but Blue Cross was legally bound by the restrictive contract language in its individual plans, said Kerry Hall, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Insurance.”
Brian Moulton, legal director for Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights organization in Washington, D.C., says there may be similar contract language problems in other states, but North Carolina is the only state to date where cancellations have surfaced.
The for-profit Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas, which is the other insurer that sells subsidized coverage in North Carolina under the Affordable Care Act, does not prevent same-sex couples from buying a family policy, according to that organization’s spokesman, Walt Cherniak.—Ruth McCambridge