Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the Social Security Administration (SSA) is now able to process requests for Medicare Part A and Part B Special Enrollment Periods, and reductions in Part B and premium Part A late enrollment penalties for certain eligible people in same-sex marriages. This is another step HHS is taking in response to the June 26, 2013 Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, which held section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. Because of this ruling, Medicare is no longer prevented by DOMA from recognizing same-sex marriages for determining entitlement to, or eligibility, for Medicare.
"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," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "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."
While Medicare is managed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), SSA is responsible for determining eligibility for, and enrolling people in, Medicare.
Click here for more information at the Medicare website.
Cutting through the jargon, this means that married same-sex couples can qualify for Medicare hospital and physician benefits for the first time. CMS says, "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."
This decision follows the Obama administration precedent of recognizing all legal same-sex marriages for federal purposes regardless of the couple's current state of residence.
This is a huge step forward for married LGBT seniors. Thank you, Secretary Sebelius and President Obama!
UPDATE via Andrew Cray, policy analyst for LGBT Progress at the Center for American Progress:
For couples in domestic partnerships or civil unions this announcement offers some, but not all of the same opportunities for enrolling in Medicare coverage. Domestic partnerships and civil unions are not recognized for the purposes of Special Enrollment Periods for applicants 65 or older, but for those applicants with disabilities who are under 65, Special Enrollment Periods are available as long as the applicant has coverage through their partner's current employer.