Thursday, March 27, 2008

A legal and health "Catch 22"

Some months ago, I reported on this blog that I'd taken on an organizing job with Claiming the Blessing, a coalition anchored by Integrity, that works for full inclusion and equality for LGBT people in the Episcopal Church.

This new project has a number of related byproducts. For the next few weeks I'll be on the road for the project, so posts may be sporadic -- or full of pictures of the "view out my window" interspersed with thoughts from airport lounges.

A far more interesting consequence of this work is that I have a crop of new friends and acquaintances. And one those is having a nasty experience that illustrates all too clearly what's wrong both with how gay relationships are treated legally in this country and how health care is doled out by a broken insurance non-system.

Robert Ryan was working at the insurance licensing division at Morgan Stanley on the 74th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He was very fortunate to make it out alive and didn't know for days what had happened to his co-workers. The trauma left him depressed, unable to concentrate, and even thinking of suicide. Eventually he went on disability.

In 2004, Robert formed a partnership with Ralph Martinelli who worked as a sales manager at Konica Minolta Business Solutions (KMBS), a global office equipment company. Since they were residents of New Jersey, they were able to register as domestic partners and Ralph could put Robert on his health insurance. But Robert wanted to get away from constant reminders of 9/11 -- he "wanted to see mountains," as he told a group of us when we met him at a workshop. So the couple moved to Idaho, and that's where the ambiguous legal status of gay partnerships plunged them into crisis.

Ralph was able to transfer to a similar position at KMBS in Idaho, but he could no longer cover Robert on his health insurance. KMBS requires gay partners to register with the state of their residence as "domestic partners" in order to qualify for coverage. But Idaho doesn't recognize any domestic partnerships --they'd run into a "Catch 22" -- no legal status existed recognizing the couple and so no health coverage existed for Robert.

KMBS could opt to cover Robert as person who had been recognized previously as a partner -- but it chose not to and it didn't have to. Many companies do have more flexible policies. Robert was able to pay to stay on Ralph's insurance for 18 months under the federal COBRA law, but this is very expensive and will run out in 2009.

This is a crazy making situation. Because gay people can't be legally married, companies can adopt inconsistent, arbitrary policies that penalize some, but not others, of their employees for their sexual orientation. The ACLU is trying to persuade KMBS to extend coverage to Robert.

And this situation is also the byproduct of our society's mad notion that eligibility for health care should be attached to whether individuals can form a durable bond with someone who works for a relatively generous corporation.

Robert and Ralph should be allowed to get married if they wish -- but also, every one of us should be entitled to medical care as a human right, simply by living in the community of this rich country. We all have a lot of organizing to do.

1 comment:

sfwillie said...

I can't get excited about health care for domestic partners--seeking fairness from an unjust system. We need health care for all.

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