Monday, November 29, 2004

Relying on the Goodwill of Others...and Gratitude

All the talk about gay marriage since the 2004 election has made me think of this story and just how frustrating it is to have your family's protection and well-being be at the mercy of others.

My company, a cool progressive software company, offers domestic partner benefits. I originally proposed the idea back in early 2000. I armed myself with all sorts of arguments and information and research ahead of time (particularly ways to respond to counter-arguments) and recruited a few other sympathetic employees to the cause. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was totally unnecessary; the Powers That Be favored the idea based on my original suggestion. The only issue was the insurance company - it was not willing to provide the coverage until we had a certain number of employees.

We grew to that magic number and the coverage became available. I signed up Laura - at the time, she was a student and did not have very good coverage. A hospital stay and ongoing medical issues going back to 1999 made it all that much more important - for her to ever lose coverage would be a disaster. There were a couple minor glitches with the claims - mostly when doctors filed things incorrectly (i.e., filled in spouse rather than dp) - but for the most part everything worked out well.

Then, in 2002 my company changed providers. I worried for a few days that we might lose coverage and was relieved to find that partners would still be covered. I filled in the various forms and turned them in. The new plan was to start on the first of a month. The medical cards arrived. My envelope contained ONE card. Those with family coverage were supposed to have TWO.

I immediately talked to the Person in Charge of Benefits and she reassured me that she already knew there was a problem and had already e-mailed the insurance company. We waited. The next day, she told me that the insurance company required proof of domestic partnership, but hadn't specified what they would accept. OK. Apparently the notarized affidavit I had provided for the previous company would not suffice.

This back and forth went on for a week. The part that alarmed me the most is that technically, during this time, Laura was not covered. What if something happened during this time? What if she got sick or we had an accident?

During this time, the Person in Charge of Benefits could not have been more helpful or accommodating. She kept after the insurance company, asking them point blank why they didn't have their act together on this, seeing as they knew all about the DP plan from the beginning. The insurance company put Laura on the plan even as they waited for the official proof. She gave me the phone number for someone at the insurance company I could call for proof of coverage if necessary. She was amazing and helpful at time that was probably very busy.

We finally found out what the insurance company would accept for proof and received the new medical card. All ended well.

So, why was this story on my mind? A couple reasons:

1. I am very grateful that my company provides these benefits...BUT, at the same time, I would be willing to be that none of my married co-workers spent a single second worrying that their spouses might lose coverage during this switch.

2. I am very grateful that Person in Charge of Benefits did such a great job of fixing the problem...BUT, my family's security should not depend on the goodwill of my co-workers. It would have been remarkably easy to stonewall me, put me off, or simply not make fixing the problem a priority. Most people expect a certain amount of bureaucracy from insurance companies....she might have put me off a month if she had wanted.

What if she had been like this man? This guy objected to diversity posters at his workplace and responded by posting Bible verses in his cube, with the stated intention:
Peterson explained that he meant the passages to communicate a message condemning "gay behavior." The scriptural passages, he said, were "intended to be hurtful....Peterson hoped that his gay and lesbian co-workers would read the passages, repent, and be saved.
This man found working in an office with a few diversity posters scattered around to be too much for his conscience; I imagine being asked to harangue an insurance company to provide insurance to a lesbian partner would have thrown him over the edge, regardless of the company's actual policy.

The whole incident just drove home to me the vulnerable state my family is in - largely due to the lack of marriage. Commentators like to bring up the idea of civil unions and domestic partnership benefits as solutions that make gay marriage "unnecessary". Yes, such things can help...but we are a long, long way from anything approaching equality. And we are at the mercy of the individual humans in charge of administering these programs.

My family must rely on the goodwill of others. So far I have been fortunate. Not everyone can be so lucky.

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