Overturning of DOMA Has Implications for Medicare Benefits of Same-Sex Couples

On Thursday, August 29, in response to the Supreme Court overturning a key portion of the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA), a handful of agencies announced they would be extending rights to married same-sex couples. Notably, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is one of them. This development means an extension of Medicare benefits to couples previously denied Medicare benefits because of DOMA. Same-sex married couples will be allowed to file joint federal tax returns, and as a result are able to claim marriage-related exemptions, employee benefits, claiming the earned income tax credit and other credits and deductions even if they live in jurisdictions that don’t recognize same-sex marriage.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner both released statements marking the occasion. First, Sebelius said, “Today’s announcement is the first of many steps that we will be taking over the coming months to clarify the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision and to ensure that gay and lesbian married couples are treated equally under the law.” And Tavenner said, “Today, Medicare is ensuring that all beneficiaries will have equal access to coverage in a nursing home where their spouse lives, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

When seniors in Medicare Advantage programs need to enter a nursing home, they have the option to choose the same nursing home where their spouse resides. Because of DOMA’s definition of marriage, that choice was previously available only to heterosexual couples. But because of the reversal, all married couples as recognized by federal law now have the same option when choosing a nursing home.

See attached link to view the HHS Press Release: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2013pres/08/20130829a.html

Written by: Stephen Angelette

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