What Domestic Partners Need to Know About Applying for Health Insurance Under Obamacare
When registered domestic partners or civil union partners apply for coverage in the new health insurance marketplace, there’s one question that almost always arises: Do we apply based on our separate incomes, or must we include all the income we make as a couple?
The answer depends on the state where you live.
States other than California, Nevada, or Washington. In almost all states, registered domestic partners or civil union partners who apply for insurance via the state’s health insurance exchange must do so separately. Each partner includes only his or her separate income, and this amount determines health plan costs and eligibility for cost-saving subsidies. It works this way because domestic partners are not considered married for federal tax purposes. (If you registered first and got legally married later, this article doesn't apply to you. You must apply as a married person and report your combined income.)
California, Nevada, or Washington. In these states, which extend community property laws to registered domestic partners, domestic partners must usually apply using half of the partners’ combined incomes. (We confirmed this with the legal department at Covered California after repeatedly receiving conflicting information from representatives staffing the exchange’s customer service phone line.) This is because IRS rules require that domestic partners registered in these community property states report half of their combined community income on their federal taxes each year.
Sometimes, this reporting requirement will have the unfortunate effect of rendering a lower-earning partner ineligible for health insurance subsidies.
Example: Caroline and Susan are registered domestic partners in California. Caroline makes $80,000 per year and Susan earns $30,000 per year. When they apply for health insurance at Covered California, they will complete separate applications but must each include $55,000 of community income (half of their combined community income of $110,000). Neither partner will qualify for premium-lowering subsidies, which are generally available for individuals earning less than about $46,000 per year. If Caroline and Susan were able to apply separately, Susan would have qualified for premium assistance in the form of tax credits.
The only case in which domestic partners registered in community property states would not apply based on combined income is that in which the partners signed a valid pre-registration agreement (like a “prenup”) before registering, in which they opted out of the community property system by agreeing to keep all property separate.
The Bottom Line
In short, how you apply for Obamacare depends on how you file your federal taxes. If you include community income when you report your earnings to the IRS, you must include it when seeking health care coverage as well. If you report only separate income to the IRS, you will include only separate income on your health insurance application.
For More Information
To learn whether you are required to purchase health insurance under Obamacare, see Do I Have to Get Obamacare in Washington?
To find out how Obamacare’s cost-saving subsidies work, see Ways to Save Money on Obamacare.
If you’re ready to apply, see How Do I Sign Up for Obamacare in Washington?
You may also be interested in:
Five things Washington residents need to know about the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare), including whether you must get health insurance, how much it will cost, and how you can save money.
Learn where Washington residents should go to get health plans under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and how to get help with the application process.
Learn which Washington residents must have health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) and find out about the penalty you'll pay if you don't have a qualifying health plan.