After Pressure From ACLU, Gay Georgia Man Allowed To Join State Insurance Plan
Insurance Commissioner Objected To Coverage Because Man Was Previously Insured As A Domestic Partner
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ATLANTA — After pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, Georgia’s Commissioner of Insurance has agreed to allow Jon Lawson, a gay man, to purchase health insurance through a state plan designed to help people who are uninsured. Although the plan only requires that an applicant is insured for 18 months before joining the plan, Commissioner John Oxendine’s office rejected Lawson’s application, claiming that he was ineligible because had been covered as a domestic partner through his previous insurance plan.
This is not the first time Commissioner Oxendine used his position to try to bar gay people from getting public health insurance. After the city of Atlanta persuaded the Georgia Supreme Court that it was justified in providing domestic partner benefits to its employees, Oxendine tried to block the city’s plan by withholding approval of the change in policy. The city was forced to bring a lawsuit against him, which it ultimately won.
“I’m happy that the insurance commissioner did the right thing, not only in my case but for others who may be in the same situation,” said Jon Lawson, a 51-year-old Atlanta resident who was about to become uninsured after separating from his domestic partner who had provided his health insurance. “Anyone who needs health insurance and meets the state’s requirements should not be denied under any circumstances.”
After breaking up with his partner of six years, Lawson, who worked for many years in the travel industry but is currently uninsured, discovered he was eligible for insurance under the Georgia State Insurance Assignment System. The program was started to give people who have insurance but are about to become uninsured the opportunity to purchase insurance. Meeting all the qualifications, he applied for the program and provided proof that he was insured for the required previous 18 months. Several days later, he received a call from Insurance Commissioner Oxendine’s office and explained that he was covered as a domestic partner under his former partner’s plan. The same day, he received a fax from the Assignment System Coordinator stating that he was ineligible for the program because, “The relationship of domestic partner is not considered a family relationship under Georgia law. . . “
The ACLU sent a demand letter on January 9, 2008, to Oxendine spelling out Lawson’s qualifications for the state insurance program and explaining that disapproval of his former relationship was not a valid reason to deny his participation in the program. Lawson received a letter yesterday from the plan notifying him that he is now insured under the plan.
“It’s very clear that the insurance commissioner’s office overstepped its authority just to try to disadvantage gay people,” said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. “The Insurance Assignment System was put in place to help all Georgians, not just those which the commissioner approves.”
“We’re relieved that reason ultimately prevailed with the commissioner’s office and are hopeful that this move means Commissioner Oxendine will have more respect for gay people,” said Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia. “At the very least, his office must realize that barring people from insurance only serves to create a burden on the state — the very reason the Insurance Assignment System was created in the first place.”
A copy of the demand letter sent to the Commissioner of Insurance Oxendine’s office is available at:
A photo of Jon Lawson is available upon request.
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