Fair Share?

By NEIL MILLER  |  November 19, 2009

Having said all this, Coles contends that the insurance companies he negotiated with when the San Francisco proposal appeared likely to become law viewed the abuse issue as a “canard.”  This is not to say they were enthusiastic about insuring domestic partners.  Far from it.  “They had to have the daylights beaten out of them,” says Coles.  “Only when we said to them, ‘Look, this is going to happen,’ did they start saying, ‘Well, gee, this is how we could go about doing it.’”  What the companies insisted on was that these relationships have a legitimacy of their own, outside of an insurance form.  “The companies really didn’t care how you defined the relationship,” says Coles.  “They didn’t care about how long a relationship had been in existence.  What they wanted was the relationships to be economically interdependent ones that would be registered in a document-keeping system that was independent of the insurance policies themselves.  They didn’t want someone to be a domestic partner just in order to get the insurance benefits.”

It was to satisfy the companies’ requirements that Cole and others who worked on the proposal suggested the system whereby couples would go to the county clerk’s office to file an affidavit swearing that they were domestic partners, under penalty of perjury.  The insurance companies, according to Coles, said “great.”  Clearly, Mayor Feinstein, who vetoed the proposal, disagreed.  Feinstein’s stated reason for the veto was that portions were “vague and unclear.”  However, most observers attributed her action to fear of political repercussions, particularly in view of strong opposition to the plan from San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn.

* * *

Workers Trust is an organization based in Eugene, Oregon, that offers group insurance to 400 worker-owned and “democratically run” member companies across the country through the Consumers United Insurance Company, in Washington, DC.  Two local groups insured with Workers Trust are Boston’s South End Press and Gay Community News.  Since its founding in 1980, the company’s policy has been to insure domestic partners of employees of its member organizations.  “In our market, the progressive market, if we didn’t offer that kind of service we would not be meeting the needs of our members,” says president Rick Koven.  Koven’s attitude towards the issue is surprisingly casual.  “As long as two people live together, we don’t care about anything else,” he says, though Workers Trust does require a 90-day waiting period to make sure the relationship has some durability.  In fact, Koven doesn’t even care if you do sign up your roommate as a spouse equivalent.  “If you really want to get your roommate health insurance, you can get married within three days,” he says.

 Koven believes that once insurers accept the principle of domestic partnership, they must realize they can never be totally clear about the nature of such a relationship.  “Who are we to determine what your relationship is?” he asks.  “Are we going to ask you to write us a long letter explaining how much you love one another?  Once a company or a group plan takes that step and says you don’t have to be married, then it has to take the whole step that says we don’t really care what your relationship is.  If you are an adult member of our plan and you are insured with us, you can have one dependent adult who lives with you.  You just can’t get any more detailed than that.”  That doesn’t mean, of course, that Koven intends to be the victim of scams by would-be domestic partners.  “If we give someone coverage and right away there is a rash of large medical bills,” he says, “obviously we are going to investigate that.”

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