Segal Finds Slow Start for Same-Sex Enrollments

October 4, 2004 ( - While plan sponsors have been trying to figure out what the impact of legalized same-sex marriage might mean for their benefits programs, for public sector firms in the Bay State, enrollments appear to be off to a slow start.

The Segal Company recently reported the results of a survey of 38 public sector respondents in , where the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same-sex couples could marry (see Murky Waters ). The survey results, which Segal notes are of anecdotal interest, but not statistically significant, found that while more than half (61%) of employer respondents said they had received requests to enroll a same-sex spouse in their benefit programs, nearly all (14 of the 17 entities) had enrolled fewer than five same-gender married couples.

Segal notes that the average number of such couples enrolled by these entities was 2.75, excluding the results of the Commonwealth’s Group Insurance Commission, which had a “significantly higher number of same-gender spouses” enrolled at the time of the survey, which Segal said “would have distorted the average.” The 38 survey respondents included municipalities and other public sector entities, but did not include any counties, public colleges, or universities.

The survey’s authors note that the comparatively small number of same-sex spouse enrollments was not surprising because “the actual number of same-gender couples who have married throughout is relatively small.”

Virtually all jurisdictions represented in the survey said they were planning to offer identical benefits to all legally married spouses, to the extent not prohibited by federal law. Health benefit coverage was most commonly cited, followed by COBRA coverage, “leave similar to FLMA,” survivor benefits, and spousal life insurance. Health benefit coverage and COBRA coverage were also most frequently cited by employers that offer, or plan to offer, only selected benefits to same-gender spouses.

Segal notes that a number of benefits and human resources issues have been raised by the decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health. Among them are the need to:

  • Address federal tax withholding and reporting for COBRA, FMLA, Section 125 flexible benefits, and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs);
  • Ensure that internal and external communications are accurate;
  • Maintain consistent enrollment procedures for both same- and opposite-gender spouses;
  • Update payroll systems and program administration.

Segal has outlined the benefit implications of the Goodridge decision at