Gay marriage ruling leaves health insurance questions - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Gay marriage ruling leaves health insurance questions

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MADISON (WKOW)—Friday, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb is expected to issue an injunction barring the enforcement of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But she could also issue a stay—putting the status of marriages that occurred in the last week in question.

So what does this all mean when it comes to health insurance for those newlyweds? Traditionally, a marriage triggers a series of things relating to healthcare- a spouse gets automatic hospital visitation rights and newlyweds typically have a 30-day special enrollment period where a spouse can be added to an insurance plan.

“There are all also tax consequences for marriage,” said Sarah Davis, the associate director for UW’s Center for Patient Partnerships. “And the way that works, sometimes in a same-sex marriages, folks have been in domestic partnerships before so they've already been on each other's health insurance but they've had to pay taxes on the value of that insurance. And once you're married, you no longer have to pay taxes on that benefit.”

But as the issue of gay marriage makes its way through the court, the question is- will the marriage licenses that have been granted be recognized as valid for the purposes of healthcare rights? Advocates at the Center for Patient Partnerships decided to do some research.

“So what we did, is we called several health insurance companies and employee trust funds, which represents 225,000 people in Wisconsin,” Davis said.

“Their answer was kind of ambiguous,” said student advocate Zach Eastburn. “And some of the people we talked to, because of how things are changing, they're very unsure how, or what steps they'll take in the future.”

The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance declined an interview, saying they are still researching the implications of the court ruling.

If a stay is granted, already married couples could find themselves in unknown territory. And Davis says the Center for Patient Partnerships is there to help.

“We'll find out what the law is and what's specific for them,” Davis said. “Because it may be that insurance companies are going to make their own decisions and it's going to depend on who your insurance company is.”

Davis says it’s important for any married couple- gay or straight- to note- a spouse is not granted automatic power of attorney for healthcare decisions. You need to fill out a form granting that power.

If you need assistance determining any of your healthcare rights- you can contact the Center for Patient Partnerships at 608-890-0321 or by e-mail advocacy@patientpartnerships.org.

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