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Mar 12, 2021

Most HR departments have amplified their efforts to enact new corporate policies that support employee inclusion. That’s a good thing. It makes sense from a legal perspective, as well as a cultural one as companies that embrace these policies are benefiting from the advantages that come from a truly diverse and inclusive workforce.  

But there are several areas where the full adoption of inclusivity still faces some challenges. 

One glaring oversight can be found in a majority of employee healthcare benefits packages. While there’s no question that in recent times recognizing and extending benefits to domestic partners and married same-sex couples represented a huge step forward, many LGBTQ couples still lack critical support when it comes to starting a family.

In spite of inclusivity and diversity claims, the reality is that most corporate benefit providers refuse to cover or reimburse LGBTQ couples for services such as IVF and gestational surrogacy — despite doing so for infertile straight couples.

Why the difference? Perhaps because infertility challenges for straight couples are considered naturally occurring and can therefore be covered by certain policies. Since there is no “natural” way for same-sex couples to conceive children, companies and benefits providers consider infertility a non-applicable or a moot point. 

That’s a slap in the face to the thousands of same-sex couples who have successfully jumped major hurdles, at considerable cost, to start families.

Many gay men are turning to IVF to create their embryos, and their costs will be as high as $45,000 using an egg donor and doing genetic testing of their embryos. They cannot use their insurance for the medical costs relating to IVF creation of embryos even if they are paying premiums and their policies include infertility coverage. They often ask if their surrogate can use her medical insurance for her treatment at the IVF clinic, but they cannot even access these benefits since the surrogate herself is not being treated for infertility. In every direction, these couples are facing roadblocks in getting financial help to have children.

Furthermore, according to a recent survey from Evernorth, the health services segment of Cigna Corporation, “three out of four women report interest in fertility benefits from their insurance plan or employer — yet, it is a benefit not as frequently offered as others. One in three women would change or encourage their partner to change jobs for better pregnancy, fertility treatment and adoption coverage.”

Somewhat ironically, there are a few insurance companies that concede that, as women, lesbians can technically carry a child to term. Consequently, they will sometimes reimburse costs associated with IVF or surrogacy options. But there remains discrimination against gay male couples, for whom infertility is a deemed a legal non-starter since neither partner can conceive or carry a child to term.

Fortunately, some progressive businesses, often in response to employee petitioning, will seek out an insurance provider that will cover family building services like IUI, IVF, and surrogacy for LGBTQ team members. Starbucks, Google, and Amazon stand out as trailblazers offering these benefits.

That’s great news, but not all LGBTQ individuals work for forward-thinking, image-conscious corporations.  They work everywhere and are waking up to the fact that, despite all the talk about inclusivity, there are still obvious systemic exceptions that apply to them.

Those couples that have tried to challenge insurance companies have found that it takes deep pockets to do so. Adam Motz and Amadou “Tee” Lam, for instance, a gay married couple living in Chicago, have been fighting their insurance company for years to recoup egg donation and fertilization costs that would be covered for straight couples. After a series of drawn-out proceedings and appeals, the couple is now in contact with the ACLU to see if insurer’s policies can be legally deemed discriminatory. It’s an expensive process that will probably take years to resolve.

So it’s up to corporate leadership to fix this gap in inclusivity coverage and take insurance companies to task for falling back on semantics when it comes to insuring gay couples who want to start families.