As healthcare costs continue to rise, health insurance is more important than ever. Unfortunately, it's becoming increasingly complicated: New regulations threaten to upend the status quo and inject new layers of uncertainty into an already chaotic insurance picture. If you've recently purchased a health insurance policy or have become eligible to do so through a new employer, school or trade association, you'll need to set aside a significant amount of time to read through your policy's literature and get a grip on your options.
Most public and private insurance providers will permit you to add certain qualifying family members to your policy. For instance, most employer-sponsored group health plans willingly accept the spouses of covered members at a significant discount to the cost of individual coverage. Most employer-sponsored insurers also offer "family plans" that cover minor and adult children as well as spouses. These plans are often far more generous than individual plans and may offer low-cost prenatal, primary and preventative care.
In many cases, your insurance provider will permit you to carry virtually any family member that you can claim as a dependent. Such family members might include your elderly parents, adult children and disabled relatives. You'll need to check with the insurance regulator in your home state to determine who might qualify for inclusion on your policy.
Unfortunately, the law is less clear on your ability to carry individuals to whom you're not related by blood or marriage. If you live in a state in which common-law marriage is legal, you may be able to include your common-law spouse on your health insurance plan without much difficulty. Although cutoff dates for common-law eligibility can vary, it's likely that you'll be able to carry an opposite-sex domestic partner with whom you've been living for more than 10 consecutive years.
If common-law marriage is not legal in your state, you may not be able to carry an opposite-sex partner unless some form of recognized domestic partnership exists in your jurisdiction. Under most domestic partnership laws, members of the opposite sex can apply for domestic-partnership rights without officially agreeing to marry.
If you wish to carry a same-sex domestic partner on your health insurance, you'll need to make sure that your state confers equal domestic partnership benefits on same-sex couples. Likewise, you'll need to check with the proper authorities to ensure that your state recognizes same-sex common law marriages. If this is the case, your insurance company will consider your partner to be your blood relative for the purposes of your policy.