When purchasing life insurance, the policyholder usually nominates a beneficiary, as the person who will receive the money should something happen to the policyholder. Usually, if a beneficiary is not nominated, the spouse or closest heir will automatically be the beneficiary.
A life insurance claim denied by Cigna has ignited a debate in Pennsylvania over whether domestic partners should be viewed as spouses under insurance policies.
Albert Celec and Dr. Philip Ginnetti lived together as domestic partners beginning in 1994. In 1999, they entered into a shared living arrangement. In 2010, Dr. Ginnetti signed on as accepted a job in Ohio as Edinboro University’s provost and vice president. A big point of attraction for Dr. Ginnetti was the school’s non-discrimination policy toward employee benefits.
Dr. Ginnetti subsequently applied for and received recognition of Mr. Celec as a qualified domestic partner for health care and other benefits. Dr. Ginnetti received $50,000 coverage of life insurance from Prudential under the management benefits program and a right to purchase supplemental coverage.
The complaint states that during the application for an additional $100,000 in coverage from Cigna, a human resources staff member from the University allegedly neglected to list Mr. Celec in the paperwork as the beneficiary.
In June 2012, Dr. Ginnetti died. Prudential paid the $50,000 portion of the claim however Cigna refused to provide the remaining $100,000 on the basis that Mr. Celec was not the deceased’s spouse under Delaware law, where the insurance company is headquartered. This, despite the fact that Dr. Ginnetti was a resident of Ohio at the time of his death.
The Vice-President of human resources at Edinboro, and Dr. Ginnetti’s mother (who received the policy payment as next of kin), both wrote letters confirming Mr. Celec was Dr. Ginnetti’s spouse, Nonetheless, Cigna continued to deny Mr. Celec the proceeds.
The complaint argues that Dr. Ginnetti and Mr. Celec met the standards for the definition of spouse in a civil action. It also argues that Edinboro should be held responsible because the school “violated the equal protection clause by offering a life insurance policy that did not equally cover same sex relationships and heterosexual marriages.”
The complaint further contends that Cigna regularly provides insurance payouts to heterosexual spouses regardless of whether or not the spouse had been named as a beneficiary.
In 2005, the California Insurance Equality Act (AB 2208) was enacted. This is a state law that requires California insurance providers and managed care plans (HMOs) to provide coverage for registered domestic partners that is equal to spousal coverage. The law complements California’s Domestic Partnership Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003 (AB 205), which grants registered domestic partners most of the same rights and responsibilities under California law as belong to married couples.
Interestingly, in 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a provision that, if successfully implemented, will close a loophole in the California Insurance Equity Act which exempts out of state employers from having to offer domestic partner health insurance coverage to employees residing in this state.
However, in Pennsylvania, the law is unclear on this matter. We will be watching this case very closely to see how the court rules.