Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) today introduced H.R. 2310, the Equal Access to COBRA Act of 2011, legislation which would ensure LGBT couples and families have the same access to Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. The bill, which has 47 bipartisan cosponsors, would apply to companies that already offer health coverage to domestic partners and their children.

“The recession didn’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and neither should our safety net policy,” Speier said.  “This legislation would ensure that eligible LGBT employees and their families have the same access to health care benefits as every other American.”

COBRA gives workers the right to access their employer-provided health care benefits for up to 36 months after they lose their job. Currently, COBRA mandates only employees, their spouses, and dependent children can continue health coverage. This bill would change federal law to allow equal access to COBRA coverage for all individuals who are covered by an employer’s health plan, including domestic partners and their children.

“In these troubled economic times, social safety-net benefits like COBRA continuation coverage are even more important to American families,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.  “Hundreds of employers, including more than half of the Fortune 500, already extend health benefits to the domestic partners of their employees as a matter of fairness as well as good business practice.  LGBT people should have the equal ability to maintain those critical benefits for their families during difficult times.  We applaud Congresswoman Speier for her leadership in seeking these important protections for our community.”  

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has a companion bill in the Senate. The House version was formerly sponsored by Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who resigned last week.