Gay Conn. Doctor Accuses Catholic Hospital of Bias

February 6, 2006

A doctor has accused St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, Conn. of bias for its refusal to extend health insurance to his civil-union partner.

Dr. Alan J. Couture, 36, an emergency physician at St. Mary’s for eight years, filed a complaint last week with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. He accused the hospital of discriminating against him on the basis of his sexual orientation and marital status.

“I knew it wasn’t right,” said Couture, who was raised a Roman Catholic.

He and Robert McDonald, 28, joined in a civil union last October. Couture received only one insurance card, and McDonald learned he was not covered when he tried to schedule an appointment with the couple’s primary care physician.

St. Mary’s operates independently of, but in cooperation with, the Archdiocese of Hartford,

Robert Ritz, the hospital’s president, said that as a Catholic institution, it abides by the “ethical and religious directives of the church.”

“The (civil union) statutes have created some complications for us because of our values,” he said.

Civil unions became state law last October, requiring health insurance plans regulated by the state to give civil partners the same benefits as spouses. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut, which provides health care coverage to St. Mary’s employees, extends benefits to civil partners.

But the hospital’s insurance is self-funded, keeping it outside the jurisdiction of the state’s insurance department, state officials said. Self-funded insurance plans do not have the same type of state oversight or regulation as other plans, said Kevin Lembo, the state health care advocate.

Dawne Westbrook, a Waterbury lawyer who filed the complaint on behalf of Couture and McDonald, said St. Mary’s engaged in employment discrimination by not treating Couture the same as other employees. As recipients of state funding, Catholic hospitals are subject to state laws, she said.

Phil Johnson, vice president of human resources at St. Mary’s Hospital, said officials made the decision after careful review.

“He is a good member of our staff, but to change our philosophy or our values at this point would be inconsistent.”

The hospital also refuses coverage for birth control or sterilizations, which conflict with Catholic principles, Johnson said.

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