Monday, October 03, 2005

Rights Groups Slam Blue Cross for Discrimation

(Link) Blue Cross drops coverage for unmarried partners in "small group" plans and claims it's not discrimination, just "legal decisions." Others, like Montana's Human Rights Group -- whose employees were insured by Blue Cross, calls it "queer baiting."


LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
By Mike Dennison
Billings Gazette

HELENA, MT - Gay-rights leaders accused the state's largest health insurer Wednesday of "queer baiting" and "blatant discrimination" for its recent decision to halt coverage on some policies for a person's unmarried domestic partner.

They also called on businesses and employees to cancel their health coverage with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, to protest the insurer's decision.

"Tell them to stop discriminating against lesbian and gay families and common-law partnerships," said state Rep. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena. "Tell them to expand society's circle of compassion, when so many are wondering how they can afford quality health care."

The company, however, said the decision was strictly a legal one, brought on by a Montana Supreme Court decision and state law that defines dependents.

The company decided to drop coverage in "small group" plans for the insured person's unmarried domestic partner, regardless of whether the partner is a common-law spouse or a same-sex partner.

"It is not a moral decision," said Tanya Ask, vice president of government affairs for Blue Cross. "It's a very clear legal decision."

Ask pointed out that the company's decision affects only its small-group coverage, which covers 10,000 to 20,000 people. Small-group policies cover groups of two to 50 employees.

Larger groups have more flexibility to choose their range of benefits and can define who's covered, including domestic partners of employees, she said.

Blue Cross insures about 230,000 people in Montana, and is by far the state's largest health insurer.

The flap stems from a Dec. 30 decision by the Montana Supreme Court that said when it comes to health insurance benefits, the state cannot discriminate between same-sex couples and heterosexual, unmarried couples.

The ruling favored a University System employee who sued after she was denied employer-provided health insurance for her lesbian partner.

In June, Blue Cross sent a letter to companies in small groups whose policies covered common-law spouses. It said because of the court ruling, it would no longer extend coverage to any unmarried domestic partner of a covered employee - homosexual or heterosexual.

Ask said Wednesday the change is needed to keep all policies uniform and to coincide with state law, which does not define a "dependent" as a same-sex partner. If the law changes, the policies would change, she said.

Critics of the company, however, didn't buy that argument.

Kaufmann and Karl Olson, director of PRIDE, the state's leading gay organization, said other insurers have not taken the same action.

New West Health Services, a Helena-based company that insures 35,000 people, still offers coverage to domestic partners of insured employees covered by their policies, they said.

Jim Senterfitt, interim chief executive officer for New West, said it's up to the company buying the insurance for its employees, to decide which dependents are covered.

"We don't discriminate as to who is a domestic partner and who isn't," he said.

Olson and Kaufmann, who works for the Montana Human Rights Network, said their organizations have canceled their Blue Cross policies and arranged to buy insurance from New West.

"We never imagined our own insurer would use (the court decision) to discriminate against us, possibly its healthiest client," Olson said. "This is bait and switch. Blue Cross is queer-baiting."

He said PRIDE's two employees had no health care claims last year. The group also was a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court decision.

Kaufmann urged other companies and workers to join the two groups in switching policies. State employees, who can choose from plans offered by Blue Cross or New West, should consider switching to New West this year, she said.

California Health Insurance said...

I think that would be an unfair way to treat people. Although blue cross is a great health insurance provider.