In fact, if the health benefits covered the employee's spouses and children, COBRA lets them keep their benefits too.
But same sex spouses are out of luck. That's because DOMA prevents federal recognition of gay marriages or relationships. While gay employees can keep their health coverage under COBRA, their same sex spouses and domestic partners cannot.
It doesn't even matter if the employer covered their partners in the first place. Employers only have to continue coverage if (1) the state where the employee worked has its own state-level version of COBRA and (2) the state makes employers treat domestic partners as spouses when it comes to health benefits. The only state that qualifies? California.
Jeff Kunerth of the Orlando Sentinel reported how the lack of COBRA coverage for domestic partners affects gay couples:
For gay couples, the exclusion from COBRA means the uncovered partner must seek individual health insurance — which can be costly to find or impossible to get.
Matthew Everett started looking for insurance when his partner was laid off by Disney after 11 years. Under his partner's policy through Disney, the couple paid $128 per month for medical insurance. Everett expects to pay twice that, or more, if he can find an insurance policy.
It may be awhile before DOMA is repealed, so gay couples will have to sit out this recession without their partners getting COBRA coverage. Hopefully the next time the economy tanks, federal law will apply equally to same sex couples.
[Cross-posted at the Gay Couples Law Blog, which discusses same sex family law, estate planning, and taxes.]