Same-sex married couples can now qualify for Medicare benefits for the first time, the Obama administration announced this week.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) stated that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will now be able to process Medicare Part A and Part B Special Enrollment Periods for couples in same-sex marriages.
The announcement arrives after the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, which ruled that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA held that the federal interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse” could only apply to heterosexual unions, and U.S. v. Windsor argued that it “disparage[s] and … injure[s] those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”
After this ruling, DOMA could no longer prevent Medicare from recognizing same-sex marriages to determine eligibility for the program. Now anyone can apply for Medicare based on Medicare taxes paid by a same-sex spouse in order to get premium-free Part A. The Medicare.gov website writes, “If you’re in, or are a surviving spouse of, a same-sex marriage, we encourage you to apply for Medicare if you think you might be eligible.”
In a guidance memo last year, HHS noted:
The Supreme Court victory in United States v. Windsor striking down the discriminatory federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) affirms that all loving and committed couples who are married deserve equal legal respect and treatment from the federal government. The demise of DOMA marks a turning point in how the United States government treats the relationships of married same-sex couples for federal programs that are linked to being married. At the same time, a turning point is part of a longer journey, not the end of the road. There is much work ahead before same-sex couples living across the nation can enjoy all the same protections as their different-sex counterparts.
“Today’s announcement helps to clarify the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision and to ensure that all married couples are treated equally under the law,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. “We are working together with SSA to process these requests in a timely manner to ensure all beneficiaries, regardless of sexual orientation, are treated fairly under the law.”
More information about Medicare can be found here.