GHLIT extends benefits to domestic partners


Decision reflects Census report that unmarried couples head more than half of U.S. households.

TAMPA, FLA. — The nation's only health-insurance program managed by and offered to veterinarians intends to expand its medical benefits to include domestic partnerships.

Officials with the American Veterinary Medical Association's Group Health and Life Insurance Trust (GHLIT) approved the extension in February. At presstime, New York Life Insurance Co., the plan's underwriter, was in the process of amending its policy.

GHLIT's decision reflects a Student American Veterinary Medical Association representative's recent appeal for the extension. It also reflects last year's Census Bureau report that unmarried couples head more than half of all U.S. households, says Dr. Jody Johnson, GHLIT director of member services.

While officials haven't set timelines, Johnson predicts the change will precede the November renewal date. Final contract language likely will model California law that already requires the inclusion of domestic partnerships in health-care policies, GHLIT leaders say.

Although some jurisdictions have instituted domestic partnerships as a way to recognize same-sex unions, they can include heterosexual couples. In California, domestic partners are defined as two adults who share a common residence and committed relationship. After filing a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the state secretary's office, the couple is entitled to the same rights, protections and benefits, as well as responsibilities, obligations and duties under the law that are granted to and imposed upon spouses.

Balancing benefits

Dr. Michael McElvaine, president of the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association, considers GHLIT's recognition of domestic partners representative of a growing trend in corporate America.

"This is becoming the norm in the business world," he says. "Over 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies provide domestic-partner benefits, including health benefits. Ten years ago, we were only talking about 5 percent."

It's also a way to advance fairness in society, says Susan Weinstein, executive director of the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, who applauds GHLIT trustees for embracing membership diversity. Weinstein points out that the policy equalizes benefits to veterinarians in committed relationships who are excluded from entering legal marriage contracts.

"This change is good for everybody," McElvaine says. "It's good for the lesbian and gay veterinarians, and it's good for straight veterinarians who have domestic partners."

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