Indiana same-sex couples in 'insurance limbo'


Hundreds of same-sex couples -- dozens in our area -- have gotten their marriage licenses since a judge struck down the ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional Wednesday.

As the state waits for a decision on the stay filed by Attorney General Greg Zoeller, another question remains in the meantime: can a same-sex couple be insured as a married couple when it comes to health benefits?

As of right now, the clearest answer is: there's no clear answer.

That's what Sarah and Stephanie Ryckman are experiencing. They couldn't wait for the state of Indiana to strike down the ban to get married.

So they didn't.

The couple got their license from the state of Michigan, when that ban got struck down in March.

"We literally jumped and drove and did it and it was an awesome experience," Stephanie says.

But three months later, they're still trying to get a handle on their health benefits.

Both women work at Notre Dame, but Stephanie's department -- physical education -- is up in the air right now.

The two are still insured as individuals with no dependents.

"Financially it was better to stay as individuals since we had so many questions regarding our marital status in Indiana," Sarah explains.

It opens up a can of questions: how will the couple file taxes, knowing their license isn't recognized by Michigan because of a stay, but is recognized by the federal government? Will Notre Dame alter their private health care offerings?

Because Indiana is new to same-sex marriage, no one from the state's Department of Insurance has given any guidance yet.

"In Indiana, the choice is so brand new -- the ink hasn't even dried yet," explains Jan Phifer, an operations coordinator at Gibson Insurance who handles employer benefits. "So we are taking them by a case-by-case basis."

Gibson Insurance works with about 500 companies, but only a few of them currently insure same-sex couples.

The decision, Phifer says, is up to the employer.

"Employers put in the request, but basically everything's driven by their contract language," Phifer says. "The contracts have to specifically have the definition of what's defined as a true marriage."

By language, she's referring to the wording on the policy: "domestic partners?" "Spouses?" "Husband/wife?"

The employer can choose to change that language, extending the benefits to cover same-sex couples. They can get in touch with their insurance provider now, or wait until their policy is up for renewal.

Or, they can choose not to change their employees' insurance policies at all, until they are told what to do by the state's insurance department.

That means, for now, the Ryckmans are stuck in a type of "insurance limbo."

"It is an unbelievably confusing time," Sarah says. "For the happy moment it's meant to be for so many couples and families as well, it just turns into a huge confusing mess."

The couple will have a formal ceremony next Wednesday. They add Notre Dame has been very supportive of their marriage, and they hope the university will choose to extend their health benefits.

A spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Insurance tells WSBT the state has not decided if it will release any guidelines to health insurance companies regarding coverage for same-sex couples.