Jan. 29, 2014, 1:34 p.m.
Jan. 29, 2014, 2:37 p.m.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina announced on Wednesday that it will begin enrolling domestic partners and same-sex married couples in their plans under the federal Affordable Care Act starting Monday, Feb. 3.
The decision speeds up BCBSNC’s process for making technical changes that previously did not recognize same-sex couples, even if they had a legal marriage from one of the several jurisdictions that perform or recognize them. The restrictions made news last week, when customers spoke out about the discrimination. A later News & Observer report noted the company had cancelled plans for 20 families.
BCBSNC began notifying customers and the public of the change today.
“I have good news to report!” reads an email from David Laboy, BCBSNC’s director of diversity and work life programs, sent to some community groups and partners. “Although it was a decision we should’ve made earlier, I’m pleased to let you know that starting Monday domestic partners and same-sex married couples can enroll as a family in our Affordable Care Act plans.”
BCBSNC had originally said they were planning on opening their plans to same-sex couples starting in 2015.
In an official media statement from the company, BCBSNC President and CEPO Brad Wilson said the company originally “chose to postpone a number of product updates until 2015.” Family coverage for same-sex married couples and domestic partners were among them.
“We should have more thoughtfully considered this decision, with full appreciation of the impact it would have on same-sex married couples and domestic partners. We’re sorry we failed to do so,” Wilson said in the statement.
Wilson continued, “Our employees have worked with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Insurance over the past week to update our plans in order to make family coverage available sooner. Those whose policies have been cancelled can reenroll in family coverage, and we’ll work with these families to make this process as easy and seamless as possible.”
Equality North Carolina, a statewide LGBT advocacy and education group, responded positively to the news today.
“We are thrilled that Blue Cross Blue Shield has taken this impactful step to protect all North Carolina families, including vulnerable married, same-sex couples seeking equal access to health care under the Affordable Care Act,” Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC said in a statement.
Sgro added, “This victory is the direct result not only of the work of so many organizations like Equality NC who are seeking to provide basic protections for our community, but also the individual gay and lesbian victims of discriminatory policies who were willing and able to come forward and fight for basic protections in the marketplace. We owe this victory to them, and will redouble our efforts to fight for requisite protections in the workplace and in statewide communities in which we live so that their visibility and voices can lead to even more wins here at home.”
In their statement, BCBSNC further noted:
• Starting Monday, same-sex married couples and anyone in a domestic partnership may purchase new family coverage on or off the Exchange for an effective date of March 1.
• Domestic partners and same-sex married couples who enrolled separately on ACA plans can convert them into family plans retroactive to their original effective date.
• Small groups will have the option to offer coverage for same-sex married couples and domestic partners beginning with new and renewed plans effective April 1, 2014.
• This change affects all of BCBSNC’s ACA plans, whether purchased on or off the exchange.
Despite the past week’s controversy, BCBSNC has had a long history of LGBT community support. They often sponsor LGBT-inclusive causes and larger events like Charlotte’s annual Human Rights Campaign Carolina Gala and Charlotte Pride, as well as the LGBT Center of Raleigh’s Out Raleigh festival.
BCBSNC received a score of 85 on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2014 Corporate Equality Index. The company lost 15 points specifically because it did not offer insurance plans for same-sex couples.