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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
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A New Attack on Same-Sex Marriage Ban

CLEVELAND (CN) - Ohio's refusal to recognize out-of-state gay marriages unconstitutionally prevents a couple from using the Healthcare Marketplace to get coverage for themselves and their daughter, the family claims in court.

Alfred Cowger Jr., Anthony Wesley Jr. and their minor daughter sued Ohio, Governor John Kasich, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and the United States of America, in Federal Court.

Cowger and Wesley, who have been together for nearly three decades and were legally married in New York in 2012, say they have been unable to enroll in a health insurance plan that covers their entire family.

They were co-insured as "domestic partners" under various insurance plans for the past fifteen years but now that Wesley is retired and Cowger is reducing his hours as a lawyer, they want to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its Marketplace website.

They claim: "Starting in the first week of October 2013, first Wesley, then Cowger, tried to apply for family coverage. Due to glitches in the Marketplace website, they were unable to complete any applications, despite hours of trying. However, they were not worried because a representative of [their latest insurer] Anthem had informed them in late October that they could continue to be insured after December 2013 under their existing Anthem policy, but that the premium cost would increase about twenty percent.

"Unfortunately, on or about November 8, 2013, Cowger received a letter from Anthem stating that plaintiffs' policy was to be terminated because it was not in compliance with the ACA. They could purchase a new family policy from Anthem, but between the increase in deductibles and premiums, that policy would cost approximately twice as much as their current Anthem policy, or about one-half of their current joint income, and would not be eligible for tax credits under the ACA."

Cowger says he spent more than 100 hours on the ACA website and speaking with representatives to try to sign up for a family health insurance plan, but that "it was determined that plaintiffs could not purchase a family policy since their legal marriage in New York, recognized as valid for federal tax purposes, was not deemed valid to obtain a family policy under the ACA."

Cowger and Wesley were forced to buy individual policies near the end of 2013 to ensure they had coverage in 2014, and bought an individual policy for their daughter.

In late January 2014, Cowger says he was informed by Medical Mutual of Ohio, his current insurer, that his family was eligible to purchase a family policy, but that it "would not qualify for tax credits because it could not be sold as an ACA 'marketplace' policy to them, since their marriage was not valid in Ohio."

Just over a week later, Cowger says, he was contacted by a Marketplace representative who told him that his family had been approved for a single policy, but "immediately thereafter, when that representative actually tried to purchase the same Medical Mutual policy for the family which they already owned as three separate policies, the representative learned that he could not do so. ... [A supervisor then told Cowger] that, though they had been approved for family coverage, in fact they could not actually purchase family coverage because their marriage and domestic partner status were not recognized under Ohio law."

The couple claims Ohio's refusal to recognize their marriage violates the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. They seek an injunction allowing them to purchase a family insurance plan through the ACA Marketplace, and damages for constitutional and civil rights violations.

Cowger, an attorney, filed the suit on behalf of himself, his partner and their daughter.

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