Why DOMA Matters for Medicare

March 26, 2013 at 4:02 pm Leave a comment

This week, the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in two cases relating to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law prohibiting the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. DOMA has serious implications for same-sex couples regarding the benefits they earn, including Medicare.  How same-sex couples qualify and pay for Medicare is directly impacted by DOMA – and has serious financial ramifications for these couples.

Access to Medicare is generally achieved by reaching age 65 and accruing 10 years (40 quarters) of Social Security-covered employment, or by being the spouse of a worker who is age 65 who has accrued 40 qualifying quarters.  Because the federal government cannot legally recognize the validity of a same-sex married couple under DOMA, same-sex spouses with no work history, or fewer than 40 qualifying quarters, cannot acquire Medicare coverage on the basis of their spouses’ work history.  In order to have access to Medicare coverage that would be available to an individual in a mixed-gender marriage, a spouse in a same-sex marriage must pay hefty out-of-pocket premiums to buy into Medicare Part A. In 2013, the monthly Part A premium is $248 for beneficiaries with 30 to 39 quarters of qualifying work history, and $451 for those with less than 30 quarters in the system.

Simply put, DOMA often causes same-sex couples to pay significantly higher out-of-pocket costs for Medicare than they would if they could legally marry in their states and if their marriages were recognized federally. Though some progress has been made by the Department of Health and Human Services in recognizing the rights of same-sex couples regarding hospital visitation, DOMA still presents them with significant barriers to affordable health care under Medicare.

The Supreme Court’s rulings on DOMA will have serious implications for same-sex spouses and their families. Ironically, this is LGBT Health Awareness Week. We hope the Supreme Court will mark the occasion with a decision that recognizes the full and equal rights of Americans in same-sex marriages.

Entry filed under: Access to Health Care, LGBT and Medicare, Medicare.

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Health Policy Expertise

We provide effective, innovative opportunities to impact federal Medicare and health care policies and legislation in order to advance fair access to Medicare and quality health care.

Judith A. Stein, Executive Director

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March 2013


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