Federal Government Directives Recognize Same-Sex Marriages
On Thursday, the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department announced that all same-sex couples who are legally married will be recognized as such for federal tax purposes, the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, the announcement is the "broadest federal rule change" to arise from the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (Lowrey, New York Times, 8/29).
Background on DOMA Ruling
The high court's decision to strike down DOMA meant that same-sex couples who are married and living in 13 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal would become eligible for the spousal benefits they have been denied, including:
- Family and medical leave;
- IRS tax credits;
- Survivors' benefits; and
- Tax-free, employer-provided health coverage (California Healthline, 8/15).
Details of IRS, Treasury Department Decision
According to the Washington Post's "Wonkblog," advocacy groups were concerned after the ruling was issued that the federal government would adhere to the "place of residence" rule in recognizing the legality of same-sex marriages.
However, the IRS and Treasury Department have instead decided to use a "place of celebration" rule in recognizing such marriages.
Specifically, the Treasury Department said in a statement "that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. The ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage."
In addition, the agencies announced that the rule is retroactive, which means that legally married same-sex couples can file refund claims for the tax years 2010, 2011 and 2012 (Matthews, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 8/29).
Health Care Implications
The decision could affect how same-sex couples participate in the Affordable Care Act, according to Kaiser Health News' "Capsules." Under the new directive, the incomes of same-sex couples will be considered in determining their enrollment eligibility for Medicaid expansion and for the federal subsidies intended to help offset purchasing coverage in the ACA's insurance exchanges.
In addition, the Treasury Department and IRS said that people who receive coverage for a same-sex spouse from their employer will no longer be required to pay income tax on the value of that coverage (Carey, "Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 8/30). Such health insurance will be treated as pre-tax income for both taxpayers (French, Politico, 8/29).
HHS Expands Medicare Coverage to Same-Sex Couples
In related news, HHS on Thursday announced that all Medicare Advantage beneficiaries will now be eligible for equal coverage for skilled-nursing facility care in nursing homes where their spouse resides, regardless of sexual orientation, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports. A beneficiary's option to choose to be cared for at the residence where a spouse resides was previously restricted to heterosexual couples (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/29).
The HHS guidance -- the first such directive to be issued in response to the Supreme Court's DOMA decision -- similarly will recognize all legal marriages, even if the spouses reside in states that do not recognize their union. Danielle Moon -- director of HHS' Medicare Drug and Health Plan Contract Administration Group -- wrote in the guidance that all private companies contracted with Medicare to provide Medicare Advantage care must provide the same care to all couples.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, "HHS is working swiftly to implement the Supreme Court's decision and maximize federal recognition of same-sex spouses in HHS programs." She added that the decision "is the first of many steps that we will be taking over the coming months to clarify the effect of the Supreme Court's decision and to ensure that gay and lesbian couples are treated equally under the law" (Ross Johnson, Modern Healthcare, 8/29).
Same-Sex Rights Groups Laud Decisions
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin praised the IRS and Treasury Department decision in a statement, saying the move will allow same-sex couples to "finally have access to crucial tax benefits and protections previously denied them under the discriminatory [DOMA]" (Politico, 8/29).
Separately, Michael Adams -- executive director for Services and Advocacy For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders -- said in a statement that HHS' decision gives same-sex couples "the respect of equal treatment and the comfort of remaining united with their loved one when both are in long-term care" (Modern Healthcare, 8/29).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.