How Same-Sex Marriage Affects Medicare

How Every Marriage Qualifies for Federal Benefits

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The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide on June 26, 2015. Joey Kotfica/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Marriage has its benefits. Not only are you in a committed relationship but you are also granted access to federal benefits. With the passage of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, same-sex couples were denied those benefits even if they were legally married in the states where they lived. The law has since been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Find out what it means for you and Medicare.

Federal Benefits of Marriage

Federal benefits for married couples include but are not limited to the following: 

  • COBRA. COBRA is a federal protection that requires your employer to offer you and your spouse extended access to health insurance after you leave a job.
  • Federal employees. Spouses of federal employees may be eligible for health benefits through the government.
  • Medicare. Eligibility for Medicare requires that you are a U.S. citizen or legal resident AND are either over 65 years old or have a qualifying disability, whether or not you are married. Your spouse's work history, however, could help you pay less for those Medicare benefits.
  • Immigration. Spouses of U.S. citizens can expedite their immigration into the country as "immediate relatives". Those married to legal residents may also immigrate but there could be a longer wait period before they can get a green card.
  • Social Security. Widows may be eligible for Social Security benefits. Widows caring for children of a deceased spouse may also be eligible for added benefits.
  • Taxes. Married couples have a decreased tax burden when it comes to income taxes, estate and gift taxes, and payroll taxes.

The Defense of Marriage Act, 1996

DOMA has raised controversy over what constitutes marriage. Wherever you stand on the debate, these are the facts. On September 21, 1996, President Bill Clinton passed DOMA into law which denied both state and federal protections to same-sex married couples.

Section 2 of DOMA allowed states and U.S. territories to deny benefits to same-sex married couples even if their marriages were legally recognized in other states. Section 3 of the law declared that same-sex married couples were not eligible for federal benefits, even if their marriage was performed in a state that recognized same-sex marriage or if they lived in a state that recognized their union.

The Defense of Marriage Act, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2013 to repeal Section 3 of DOMA but not Section 2. This did require the federal government to offer federal benefits to those in same-sex unions but with limitations. Since states could still deny acknowledgment of same-sex marriages, benefits were only granted to couples that lived in states that recognized their marriage.  

The Defense of Marriage Act, 2015 

On June 26, 2015, two years to the day from the repeal of Section 3, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA entirely. At that time, 13 states (AR, GA, KY, LA, MI, MO, MS, ND, NE, OH, SD, TN and TX) still had not allowed same-sex marriage.

Now same-sex marriage is legal nationwide. The United States is poised for more debate as religious groups seek exemptions from the law.

What This Means For Same-Sex Couples

In 2013, you could marry in a state that recognized same-sex unions but only receive federal benefits if you lived in certain states. In 2015, you can be married anywhere in the nation regardless of sexual orientation and receive federal benefits wherever you live.

When it comes to Medicare, there are specific perks: 

  1. You can have access to reduced Medicare Part A premiums based on your spouse's work history.
  2. You could qualify for lesser Part B or D premiums based on joint income.
  3. You could delay enrollment in Part B if you are covered by your spouse's employer-sponsored health plan.
  4. You could be eligible for certain Medicare savings programs based on joint income.
  5. You can have Medicare late penalties discontinued if they were a direct result of your same-sex marriage not being recognized at the time. You will need to make an appeal to Medicare for this to happen; it will not happen automatically.

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