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DOMA's Death Raises Questions for HR Executives

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media, July 1, 2013

For the 13,000 employees at Scripps Health, a nonprofit health system in San Diego, CA, adult domicile partners have been covered on employer-sponsored health plans since the late 1990s. When California began to allow registered same-sex domestic partners, Scripps Health modified its plan to accommodate registered domestic partners. 

"The only real impact to our system," says Dayna Pearson, director of health plans for Scripps Health in an interview last week, "is the timely shift that needs to take place so that premiums for same-sex marriages will come out before taxes, versus after taxes as it stood two days ago."  

The equal tax treatment of health insurance premiums will be one of the biggest changes for employees. Same-sex couples can now pay for health benefits with pre-tax dollars and those employees receive an employer contribution towards their spouse's coverage without being taxed. Previously only heterosexual couples paid for spouse's benefits from pretax earnings. Same-sex couples working in the private sector pay an average of $10,000 more than heterosexual couples in taxes for employer-sponsored healthcare.  

In states where same-sex marriage is legal, human resource and benefits departments will have to update language in summary plan documents. Pearson says benefits teams should easily be able to accommodate all of the updates into the payroll system and online benefits systems in time for open enrollment.  

"I think healthcare is farther along than some other industries with the gay and lesbian population, so it might take a month to figure out the programming and updating the system to accommodate it," says Pearson. "This isn't a big issue. Maybe it will take a few weeks. Healthcare reform—now that is going to take a lot of time!"


Chelsea Rice is an associate editor for HealthLeaders Media.
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