August 13, 2020

Thursday Reading

Best of Times - Your Money - Bucks Blog -

A wide variety of consumer-focused stories appears in The New York Times and online in our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them all up here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit your wallet.

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Bucks: Companies That Make Gay Couples Marry to Get Benefits

At least a few big companies in New York — Corning, I.B.M. and Raytheon — are now requiring their gay employees to marry if they want health coverage for their same-sex partners.

After all, the logic goes, it’s only fair. Many straight people have to marry to make their spouses eligible for coverage. So why shouldn’t gay people be subject to the same requirement in states like New York where they’re now permitted to marry?

The answer is that it’s complicated. As several legal experts point out, some same-sex couples can run into problems because the federal government does not recognize gay marriage. Requiring a couple to marry to become eligible for benefits could make it difficult to adopt a child from a country that doesn’t recognize gay unions, for instance. Immigration is another potential minefield.

What do you think employers should do? Should they keep domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples since the federal law is inconsistent with certain state laws? Do you know of other employers who are making marriage a requirement in states where it’s legal?

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Program Offering Waivers for Health Law Is Ending

No more applications will be accepted after Sept. 22, federal health officials said.

Steven B. Larsen, director of the federal Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said employers and labor unions had until that date to seek exemptions or request the extension of waivers already granted.

The new health care law generally requires employers to provide at least $750,000 in coverage to each person in their health insurance plans this year. Many restaurants, retailers and small businesses do not meet the standard. Some provide “mini-med” coverage with annual limits that may be as low as $10,000.

“Mini-med plans do not provide comprehensive health coverage, but unfortunately they are the only insurance options some consumers have today,” Mr. Larsen said.

The minimum amount of coverage will increase. Federal rules require health plans to provide at least $1.25 million in coverage next year and $2 million in 2013. In 2014, annual limits for new health plans will be banned. In that year, individuals and small businesses will be able to buy comprehensive coverage through state-supervised insurance exchanges.

Waivers granted or renewed in the next three months will run through 2013. To date, the administration has granted waivers to 1,433 health plans covering 3.2 million people.

On Friday, the administration disclosed that it had denied 100 applications and then approved nearly one-third of them after reconsidering the evidence.

To obtain waivers, employers and health plans must show that compliance with the federal requirements would cause a significant increase in premiums or a significant decrease in access to benefits. Without waivers, some employers said, they would have increased premiums or dropped coverage this year because they could not afford to provide higher health benefits.

Republicans have seized on the waivers as evidence that the law is fundamentally flawed.

“If the law is so good, why are more and more employers begging for a waiver to get relief from its burdensome mandates?” asked Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming. “Americans need waivers from the president’s law because it causes health premiums to go up.”

The policy announced Friday may eliminate the waivers as an issue in the 2012 election year. Under the policy, the administration said, employers and insurers with annual coverage limits below $2 million will have “a reasonable opportunity” to apply for waivers in the next three months.

Republicans have repeatedly asserted that the administration was giving preferential treatment to its political allies by granting waivers to health plans sponsored by labor unions that had supported the legislation. But in a study this week, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said health officials had used objective criteria in deciding whether to grant waivers.

E. Neil Trautwein, a vice president of the National Retail Federation, a trade group, said that ending the waivers was “a wise, appropriate step for the administration to take.”

“This step will avoid unnecessary politics and furor over the waivers,” Mr. Trautwein said.

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Bucks: Thursday Reading: Hotels Offer Free Gas Cards

June 15

Cambridge, Mass., Equalizes Cost of Health Insurance for Gay Workers

While an increasing number of companies are equalize the cost of health coverage for gay families, the city of Cambridge, Mass., is the first municipality to adopt the policy.

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