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Medicare Benefits given to gay spouses according to DHS

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) has announced that gay spouses are now eligible for certain Medicare benefits. According to The Department of Health and Human Services, this policy change is in response to the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The Supreme Court’s decision, which was made in June of this year, struck down the 1996 law blocking federal recognition of gay marriage. Under the Supreme Court’s decision, the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA was found to be invalid. Under DOMA, federal benefits were denied to gay couples who are legally married in their states. Federal benefits which gay spouses were not entitled to included Social Security survivor benefits, immigration rights and family leave. According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, “the act wrote inequality into federal law and violated the Fifth Amendment’s protection of equal liberty.”

Implementing the Supreme Court’s Decision for Medicare Benefits

The HHS statement reads, "Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a memo clarifying that all beneficiaries in private Medicare plans have access to equal coverage when it comes to care in a nursing home where their spouse lives.  This is the first guidance issued by HHS in response to the recent Supreme Court ruling, which held section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional."

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius added that her organization is “working swiftly to implement the Supreme Court’s decision and maximize federal recognition of same-sex spouses in HHS programs.” Sebelius noted that this step by the DHS is not the end, but only the beginning for changes that may be needed following the court’s decision. Her hope, however, is that the government can begin to “ensure that gay and lesbian married couples are treated equally under the law.”

Medicare Benefits- what will this change mean to couples?

With the change, beneficiaries will have equal access to coverage in a nursing home where their spouse lives, regardless of their sexual orientation. Prior to these updates some couples had higher costs or could not have their spouse live with them because the coverage was not provided under Medicare Advantage plans. Now, same sex couples will not have to make this choice because their spouse will also be covered (assuming that they have met the conditions for SNF coverage in the first place, and the SNF has agreed to the payment amounts and other terms that apply to a plan network SNF).

Sebelius hopes that the added Medicare benefits and the clarification of DHS policy will help to guarantee coverage applies equally to all married couples.  Because this is a change in federal policy, couples should receive the extra Medicare benefits coverage regardless of where they live.
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