Walmart Denied Health Insurance: Same-Sex Couple Left With More Than $100,000 In Medical Bills

Back in 2013, the Inquisitr reported that retail giant Walmart had passed a policy that would allow same-sex couples to include their spouse or partner on the person’s benefits plan, which included health insurance. Walmart employees were notified of the change via postcard, and the new policy went into effect in January of 2014.

But before Walmart changed its benefits plan, one Massachusetts woman was refused to add her spouse to the health insurance plan, even though the two were legally married. According to the Atlantic, Jacqueline Cote and Diana Smithson married in 2003, just five days after the state of Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage. Both had worked for Walmart until 2006, when Smithson resigned to take care of Cote’s mother, who had dementia.

After Smithson’s resignation, Cote tried adding her to the health insurance plan she had set up through Walmart. But every time she tried, Walmart rejected her.

“I would click ‘female,’ and it would tell me I could not proceed and I needed to call the home office [in Arkansas].”

Cote called Walmart’s home office, but they were unable to add her spouse to her plan.

“[They told me] that wasn’t something that they were prepared to offer at this time.”

Cote would keep trying each year to add Smithson to her health insurance plan, but the company rejected her each time. Smithson had a private health insurance plan, but she was dropped from it in 2012, when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Walmart Employee Hopes Health Insurance Will Come For Spouse Walmart employee pushes grocery carts. [Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]After the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, Cote tried to add her spouse to her health insurance plan again. Here is how she recalls her conversation with the Walmart representative.

“I would like to add my spouse to my insurance.”

“What is your husband’s name?”

“My spouse is Diana Smithson.”

“You’re married to a woman?”

After that, Cote noted that the Walmart representative placed her on hold, but never resumed the conversation.

By the time Walmart had passed its policy to include same-sex spouses on an employee’s health insurance plan, Smithson had more than $100,000 in medical bills. Cote said she and her partner are seeking an apology and compensation for the bills.

“These radiologists are responsible for [Diana] still being here. It’s difficult for her to not be able to pay them.”

In June of 2013, the New York Times reported that the Supreme Court ruled that states in which gay marriage is legal must treat same-sex spouses and straight spouses equally, when it comes to insurance and taxes. But even with 37 states recognizing same-sex marriage, Cote’s lawyer, Allison Wright, said some of the issues remain the same.

“We have so many states that now that have marriage equality, but so many employers have not updated their policies to reflect the change in the law. They are denying benefits to employees who are in legal marriages.”

Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) concluded there was reasonable cause that Walmart had discriminated against Cote because of her sexuality. The EEOC has ordered Walmart to work with her on resolving the issue.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove noted that the company would work with Cote, but he didn’t go into detail on the plans.

“While we disagree with the finding of reasonable cause, we have notified the EEOC of our willingness to meet with them and Miss Cote to discuss resolving the matter.”

[Top photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]