Partners Healthcare Offers Subsidy to Employees in Same-Sex Couples

The new policy was enacted to offset same-sex couples' higher health insurance costs.


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Because Massachusetts is one of the pioneer states to legalize gay marriage, you’d think that life for same-sex couples is relatively obstacle-free here in the Commonwealth—but that’s not always the case. Partners Healthcare, a medical network that includes Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Newton Wellesley Hospital, among others, recognized that same-sex couples pay more for medical, dental, and vision insurance costs, and decided to do something about it.

“Opposite-sex married couples get their health insurance benefits on a pre-tax basis, so their portion of what they pay for health insurance is taken out before their income is taxed,” explains Jeff Davis, senior vice president for human resources at MGH. “But because the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex partners, their benefit expense has always been after taxes. So as a result, they pay more—we estimate, on average, as much as $2,360 a year more.”

Instead of letting that discrepancy sit, Davis says, the healthcare network took action. MGH and other Partners hospitals now offer a subsidy to same-sex couples as a way to offset their health insurance costs, following a trend set by companies like Google and Boston Consulting Group. The decision was announced in April, but was applied retroactively to January 1 so employees could use the subsidy for the entirety of the 2013 tax year. Davis says the policy won’t have a significant impact on MGH finances, estimating that it will take only somewhere in the region of $200,000 out of a $3 billion dollar yearly operating budget.

And, Davis says, the news has thus far been met with near-uniform positive support, noting that he hasn’t heard of negative backlash, only “a great deal of positive comments about it” as part of MGH’s commitment to equal treatment of its same-sex members. “We’ve, for years, supported our LGBT employees. We offered domestic partners benefits long before [same-sex] marriage was legal in Massachusetts and the other New England states,” he says. “We were an early adopter of that practice.”