Washington (CNN) – Buried deep inside President Obama's 2014 budget released on Wednesday is a new proposal to expand federal health insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners.
Framed as a measure to reduce the deficit, the proposal would amend the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program beginning in 2015 to add a "self plus one" enrollment option in addition to the "self" and "family" options. Like the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act that the administration has endorsed in prior budgets, this new FEHB formulation would work within the current legal constraints of the Defense of Marriage Act by adding a new classification for additional enrollees beyond family.
Currently, the Office of Personnel Management is legally prevented from providing coverage to same-sex domestic partners due to both the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act and the Defense of Marriage Act.
The OPM website informs curious federal employees that the FEHBA "limits health insurance coverage to spouses and children of federal employees," and "DOMA further limits spousal benefits eligibility to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."
According to language in the budget, the proposed changes would allow the OPM to contract with "modern types of health plans rather than being limited to the current four statutorily-defined plans reflective of the 1950s insurance market."
"The health insurance marketplace has changed significantly since the FEHBP was enacted in 1959, and the current governing statute leaves little flexibility for the program to evolve with the changing market," the budget reads.
In a fact sheet released along with the budget, the White House claimed that these changes would "align the FEHB program with best practices in the private sector as larger employers competing for talent are increasingly offering domestic partner benefits."
The budget also proposes other changes to the federal benefits program that would allow OPM to negotiate separate contracts for pharmacy benefits and adjust health insurance premiums based on whether the enrollee smokes or enrolls in a "wellness program."
If the president's budget is enacted into law, the administration estimates that these proposed changes would save $8.4 billion over 10 years, but enactment remains unlikely as it would require support from House Republicans, who've already passed a budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan.