It's a distinction in wording important enough to merit italics in the news release. The bills making their way through the state's House and Senate this session require commercial insurance carriers to have a package for domestic partners—if employers choose to offer it.
In plainer language, businesses won't be forced to offer domestic-partner benefits. But if an employer wants to, the insurance carrier would be required to have a plan available that covers domestic partners. Domestic partners are defined as adults who've lived together for at least a year and share financial obligations.
"This is solely a bill to try and close the uninsured gap," says Betina Gonzales McCracken with the Human Services Department. "We're not really getting involved in the arguments about a domestic partner. It could be a heterosexual couple. It could be a homosexual couple. That's not at issue."
Why not demand businesses offer benefits to domestic partners?
"That's a good question," says Rep. Peter Wirth, sponsor of the bill in the House. The Insure New Mexico Council, which put this measure together, was "focused on figuring out legislation where there's general consensus," he says.
Really, says Rev. Peggy Patterson, it's a small business thing. Patterson is the assistant director of the Santa Fe Rape Crisis and Trauma Treatment Center. About a month ago, she asked the nonprofit's insurance broker to find some bids from companies offering domestic partner benefits. The broker came up with only one company that would do it for an employer with fewer than 50 workers—Lovelace. The center has only 25 employees. "It's amazing, isn't it?" Patterson says. Without a statewide statute, she says, insurance companies won't offer this coverage.
Wirth says his bill, though really just a little beyond the starting line, hasn't met opposition yet, even from insurance companies. To date, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of New Mexico, Sandia National Laboratories, Intel, the state, Albuquerque and Santa Fe offer domestic-partner coverage.
Wirth describes this measure and others like it as "working along the edges" toward, someday, that prize at the center--universal health care.