MONDAY, Sept. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Children of same-sex
parents are less likely than their peers to have private health
insurance, but the disparity shrinks in states that recognize legal
same-sex unions, a new U.S. study finds.
The results are not surprising, experts say, because employers
have not had to extend health benefits to an employee's same-sex
partner -- or that partner's children.
But the study does highlight a less-talked-about aspect of the
debate on gay marriage, said lead researcher Gilbert Gonzales, a
Ph.D. candidate in health policy and management at the University
of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
"We're fairly certain from past research that access to health insurance does directly affect children's health," Gonzales said. But there's been little research into whether same-sex couples' kids lack access.
Using data from a large federal survey, the investigators found
that about two-thirds of U.S. children and teens with same-sex
parents had private health insurance (63 percent of those with two
fathers, and about 68 percent with two mothers).
That compared with about 78 percent of kids with married
heterosexual parents, the researchers report online Sept. 16 in
And when they weighed other factors -- such as parents' incomes
and education -- the researchers found that kids living with
same-sex parents were 39 percent to 45 percent less likely to have
private health insurance versus those with a married mom and
The results looked different, however, in states that allowed
gay marriage or civil unions, or had comprehensive domestic
partnership laws, Gonzales said.
In those states, kids living with two mothers were no less
likely to have private insurance, though their peers with two
fathers still were. And there were no clear disparities in states
that allowed "second-parent adoptions" -- which means both partners
in a same-sex relationship can be their child's legally adoptive
"I think we are going to see more and more research like this that shows how marriage-equality laws have far-reaching health consequences," said Richard Wight, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose work has found a link between legal unions and better mental health for gay and lesbian adults.
Wight likened marriage equality to a "structural intervention."
That refers to any broad policy, from seatbelt laws to fluoride in
drinking water, that can affect people's well-being -- "sometimes
without them even realizing it," Wight noted.
"Increasingly," he said, "research is demonstrating that laws legalizing same-sex marriages are advantageous to health."
The current study did not look at children's actual well-being.
But like Gonzales, Wight pointed to the known correlation between
access to health insurance and children's health.
Right now, 13 U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow gay
marriage, and another six recognize civil unions or domestic
partnerships that include full spousal and family rights. Eighteen
states allow second-parent adoptions.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the portion of the
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that barred the federal government
from recognizing same-sex marriage. The decision opened the door
for same-sex couples who are legally married in their state to
receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples
That may make it easier for some children of same-sex couples to
get health insurance, Gonzales said.
As it stood, even couples who were legally married in their
state faced barriers to getting employer-sponsored health insurance
for their families. Because federal law did not recognize the
marriage, health coverage for a spouse or children was considered
income -- and it was taxed. So same-sex married employees had to
pay more out of their own pockets than their heterosexual
counterparts did. Their employers also had bigger costs, in the
form of a higher payroll tax.
Without the tax obstacle, same-sex couples may have an easier
time, said Gonzales. It's not clear what could happen in states
without legal same-sex unions, but Gonzales noted that many large
companies have been voluntarily extending health insurance to the
families of gay and lesbian employees.
Last month, for example, Wal-Mart -- the nation's largest
private employer -- said it would start offering health benefits to
U.S. employees' domestic partners, including those of the same
The current findings, which support the American Academy of
Pediatrics' endorsements of same-sex marriage, are based on data
from a 2008-2010 Census Bureau Survey. It covered 5,081 U.S.
children and teens living with same-sex parents, nearly 1.4 million
who were living with a married mother and father, and more than
100,000 living with an unmarried mom and dad.
Along with the discrepancy in private health coverage, the
researchers found that 10 percent of kids with two fathers were
uninsured versus less than 7 percent of those with a married mother
and father. Just over 7 percent of kids living with two mothers
Children of same-sex parents were also more often on public
insurance -- with about one-quarter getting benefits, compared with
16 percent of kids with married heterosexual parents.
If legal same-sex marriage does boost private health coverage
for kids, Wight said it could be a "win-win" for those families and
for the public in general.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on
same-sex marriage and child health.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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