Earlier this week, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) published a final rule granting access to health benefits to the children of federal employees’ domestic partners. The Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) Program supplies health insurance and other health benefits to civilian federal employees and their family members. In its new rule, OPM updated the program’s definition of “stepchild” to include the children of a federal employee’s same-sex domestic partner who have not been legally adopted by the employee.
This change is particularly important given that joint adoption by unmarried couples as well as second parent adoption – or adoption of a same-sex partner’s child – is unavailable in the majority of states. To determine a child’s eligibility under the program, OPM’s new rule instructs administrators to look at the nature of the parent-child relationship between the federal employee and his or her partner’s child. Factors such as whether the employee and child live and spend time together will be used to determine eligibility, not whether they have a legally recognized parent-child relationship.
However, OPM’s new rule grants coverage only to domestic partnerships in states that do not allow same-sex couples to marry. Consequently, the child of a domestic partner in any of the 14 states or District of Columbia that recognize marriages between same-sex couples will be ineligible for health insurance coverage under this new rule.
Family Equality Council applauds OPM for expanding access to health benefits for children with this important rule. This regulation provides much-needed health coverage and eliminates, for some families, the additional costs LGBT parents often have to face when creating and raising their families. This new rule is a step forward and addresses in part the barriers that LGBT people face in protecting our families. Family Equality Council urges all agencies across the federal government to examine their regulations, benefits, programs and policies impacting families to ensure that children are not denied access simply because their families do not meet the “traditional” model under which most federal programs and benefits have been structured.