Understanding Domestic Partnerships and Domestic Partner Insurance

How to Get Coverage When You and Your Partner Aren't Married

This illustration describes documentation that can help prove domestic partnership including "Shared ownership of a car or other property," "Proof of joint accounts (bank, credit, loans)," "Designation of primary beneficiary on benefits and wills," "Driver's licenses sharing a common address," and "Assignment of power of attorneys."

The Balance / Bailey Mariner

A domestic partnership is when two people live together and are in a committed relationship. It is not a legal marriage. But it can have many of the same traits as being married.

The term domestic partner is often used in health insurance to describe who may be covered by a family health policy. Domestic partners can be of the same or opposite sex. You may also see your insurance use the term Qualified Domestic Partners (QDP).

For insurance, domestic partners must be a couple. You can not be married to a third person and still be a domestic partner.

For health insurance or group benefits purposes, there are set criteria that have to be met in order for people to be counted as domestic partners.

What Is Domestic Partner Insurance?

Some insurance companies offer Domestic Partner Health Insurance. With these plans, your insurance contract allows your partner to get the same benefits that a spouse would get.

This would mean that your partner can be covered under your plan. Any children the two of your care for would also be covered. You would not have to get married for them to use your insurance.

If your plan offers this option, you and your partner can share health insurance costs. You could get the same lower rate for your family that a married couple would get.

Who Counts As a Domestic Partner?

At the moment, there is no single rule for the whole country that states what a domestic partnership is. Each state can define what a domestic partnership is for itself. States also can decide what legal benefits partners who are not married can get.

It is more and more common for states to recognize domestic partnerships. Many states will count any committed couple in a relationship like a marriage who does not have an official marriage license.

In most cases, couples would need to have traits like a marriage. These could be:

  • A shared home
  • Joint bank accounts or credit cards
  • Sharing bills and living costs

How to Prove You're a Domestic Partner for Health Insurance

To get your partner on your health plan, you will have to prove that your meet your state's criteria for domestic partnership.

In many cases, you will have to sign a form from your health insurance administrator or employee benefits plan administrator. These forms are a way of showing that you and your partner meet certain criteria.

What is on these forms will vary from plan to plan. You may have to show proof of some items, such as the fact that you share bills. Common things on these forms include:

  • You both have lived in the same home for a certain amount of time, often six months to one year.
  • Your current plan is to keep living in the same home.
  • You are known as a couple by other people in your lives.
  • Neither of you is married to someone else.
  • Neither of you has another partner.
  • You share basic living expenses, such as food, shelter, and other bills.

Some health care plans will ask you to provide proof that you and your partner qualify. This is often done by showing that you have joint banking, a shared home, or shared living expenses.

Not all of these items will be needed for every insurance plan.

  • Shared title for a car or other property
  • A rental lease with both your names on it
  • A joint deed or mortgage
  • Driver's licenses listing a shared address
  • Proof of joint bank accounts, joint credit card accounts, or shared loans
  • A life insurance policy, retirement benefits, or will where you are each other's primary beneficiary
  • Assignment of power of attorney

Are Kids of Domestic Partners Covered Under Health Plans?

If your health insurance plan says you are domestic partners, then you should be able to put your children on your plan too. This can include any kids one or both of you are in charge of caring for, such as:

  • Biological kids
  • Stepkids
  • Kids you have legally adopted

What type of coverage you can get will depend on your plan. You can ask your health insurance plan administrator to explain what is and is not covered for your children's healthcare.

If you have health insurance with a domestic partner, you should find out exactly how your children are covered. This way, you can avoid surprise bills when you take the kids to the doctor.

In most cases, when you fill out the forms for health insurance with your domestic partner, you will also fill out forms for any children the two of you care for. This should let you know what type of health coverage is offered for the whole family.

How Can You Add a Partner to a Your Current Health Plan?

Every insurance plan is different. To find out how to add your partner to your insurance, you will need to ask your plan administrator.

They will be able to tell you what kind of insurance your partner can get. They will also tell you what forms need to be filled out so that your partner may be added as soon as possible.

If you are newly qualified as domestic partners, you may have what is known as a "qualifying life event." This will let you change your health plan during special enrollment periods.

Most employer health plans will allow you to add a domestic partner if the plan includes this kind of coverage. 

How Do I Choose Domestic Partner Insurance?

Choosing health insurance for you and your partner is like buying any type of health insurance. You will need to research your options, including premium costs, deductibles, and level of coverage. This is true whether you are buying private insurance from, getting a plan through the Marketplace, or picking a plan offered through your work.

If the health plans offered through your job do not cover partners unless you are married, you may want to look into buying private insurance.

Taking the time to research and review a health insurance policy will help you get the most out of your plan. Be sure to look up any terms you don't understand. You can also call customer service or talk to your HR department if there is anything you have questions about.

Employers and Domestic Partner Benefits

In the past, when a couple shared an insurance plan they had to be married. Then, from 2000 to 2008, there was a 15.7% increase in unmarried, opposite sex households.

Among young adults ages 18-24, living together without being married is now more common than living with a spouse. And 15% of young adults ages 25-34 lived with a partner they were not married to in 2018, up from 12% in 2008.

Employers and insurance companies evolved health benefits coverage over time to include domestic partners and offer coverage to more families.

Same-Sex Domestic Partners

Some employers starting having domestic partner plans for same-sex couples when they could not get married legally. According to human resource consulting firm Aon Hewitt, 77% of large employers offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples. 

Now, employers are making domestic partner benefits available to more workers. These plans are available whether couples are same-sex or not. These benefits are meant to attract and keep good workers who might not plan to get married, even if they can.

By offering benefits to domestic partners as well as those in legal marriages, employers may be able to attract an even wider pool of talent.

Do Domestic Partner Benefits Cost an Employer More Money?

Employers may be worried about the cost of offering health insurance to domestic partners and their families. They don't need to be.

Several studies show that the cost of unmarried spouses does not increase costs more than 1% to 3% for an employer. These studies also show that the actual costs for domestic partner benefits are the same as those of married spousal benefits.

What If Your Employer Doesn't Offer Benefits for Domestic Partners?

If your employer does not provide domestic partner benefits, you could see if your partner's employer does. If neither job does, you can look for your own health insurance package from a private company.

Once you have alternate benefits, make sure they provide coverage equal to or better than the plans you and your partner can get through work. If they don't, you may be better off having separate insurance plans.

If you decide to buy private insurance so you can be on the same plan, you have the option to ask for a waiver of health insurance benefits at your job. You can then try to negotiate alternate compensation from your employer to replace the health insurance they don't have to pay for.  

Can You Ask Your Employer to Add Domestic Partner Benefits to a Plan?

You can also ask your employer to add domestic partner benefits to your company's health insurance plan. Your employer may be more open to the idea if you can show that having plans for unmarried partners isn't more costly than having plans for married spouses.

The coverage for domestic partners can be added to most workplace health plans without too much trouble.