Access to partner health insurance benefits would change my life

By Melissa Powell   [caption id="attachment_5985" align="alignright" width="400"]Melissa (left), and Suzi with their children Melissa (left), and Suzi with their children[/caption] Suzanne and I have been together for twelve years.  During that time we have shared many experiences including raising two beautiful daughters, one dog, one cat; running marathons; renovating a home; attending more sporting events than I can count; celebrating our commitment for each other with a beautiful wedding; and now experiencing the shock and implications of a cancer diagnosis. As with any couple, we have experienced our ups and downs but we are dedicated to maintaining a loving and supportive relationship and strong family for our children. To say that cancer has challenged our strength, patience, and faith is an understatement, but after fighting cancer for nearly a year here we stand - together. I was diagnosed with cancer last year when I was 37 years old. Unfortunately, treatment took its toll on my physical strength and it became necessary for me to begin short-term disability this past spring. As part of my recovery, the recovery of our entire family, and to help ensure that the cancer will not return; we decided that I would reduce my work hours from full-time to part-time for at least the next year. Although this places a financial strain on our family, we strongly feel that this is an important step in this journey. Suzi is employed by the state of Virginia. Secondary to current Virginia laws regarding partner rights I do not have access to Suzi’s health insurance even though she is my wife.  This causes immense stress for a multitude of reasons. Suzi’s insurance is widely accepted and would have afforded me the choice to be treated at a top rated cancer facility that might have had more experience treating younger women with breast cancer.  Suzi’s insurance is also extremely affordable and the coverage is extensive. In addition, I have recently lost my insurance through my employer because I had to reduce my work hours to part time; and because of my special needs it was recommended that I continue with an “extensive policy;” therefore; we are now paying over 500.00 per month for COBRA insurance. At a time when I should be reducing my stress level and focusing on healing, I have been overwhelmed by the lack of insurance options and the mounting medical bills. A very dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer at the same time I was, and I have watched the differences of her treatment unfold as it related to doctors visits, treatment facility options; and financial burdens. What struck me was that our family situations are very similar in so many ways: We both have two children, loving families, and a strong support network.  But there is one glaring difference: as I was fighting to have visits and procedures covered, and at times paying out of network costs, she was afforded all of the same health benefits and options as her husband.  A great example is the time we decided to visit a facility in Chicago that could provide us with in-depth care as it related to our individualized cancer plans.  Since she was legally allowed to be on her husband’s insurance, everything but a very small portion was covered.  At the same time, I had to pay out of network costs totaling over $1,000. I do not believe that I can truly find the words to express the feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and defeat as it relates to this matter.  I have had an amazing support network including my employer, my friends, and my family, but even with this level of support the challenges related to insurance coverage have taken a tremendous toll on my well-being and the well-being of my family. I love Virginia, but as I try my hardest to defeat cancer, focus on rebuilding my health, and prioritize my family’s well-being, Virginia’s policies are preventing me from putting my energy into the most important thing: my life.  Having access to my wife’s insurance – just like other married couples – would give me a chance to enjoy a better quality of life and concentrate on my health.  It is time for Virginia to see us for who we are: A loving Virginian family with the same needs and responsibilities as other families.

 This blog is part of Equality Virginia’s summer 2014 blog series on LGBT Virginians and access to insurance.  Learn more about Equality Virginia's work by signing up to receive our emails!  Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.