By Tara Culp-Ressler on Jun 26, 2013 at 11:50 am
On Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. While the decision doesn’t ensure marriage equality in states that have not already agreed to extend it to same-sex couples, Wednesday’s ruling does have important implications for the federal benefits that LGBT couples may receive under equal protection — including health care benefits.
As Wonkblog’s Sarah Kliff points out, the Court’s decision will allow same-sex couples to be eligible for greater tax subsidies under Obamacare because they will be considered dependents. Before DOMA was struck down, only heterosexual couples qualified for that tax break through their employer-sponsored health plans.
What does that mean? Essentially, when Americans get health care through their job, their employer pays part of the premium for that insurance plan. Many of those Americans may opt for a family plan that also covers their spouse. Under the current federal tax code, Americans can’t be taxed on the amount of money that their employer puts toward covering the cost of their spouse’s premium. But, while DOMA stood, the federal government couldn’t count same-sex couples as part of that rule. LGBT couples who were legally married ended up being taxed more for their health care than straight couples who were legally married. Now that DOMA is gone, married same-sex couples won’t pay the federal government more for sharing the same health plan.
DOMA’s demise may indirectly affect LGBT individuals’ ability to afford health benefits, too. Once same-sex couples aren’t denied the same types of other federal tax benefits and worker protections that they were under DOMA, their financial stability will probably be improved. The current discrimination against LGBT people is one of the biggest reasons that they are disproportionately likely to be low-income, unemployed, and uninsured.
Even outside of the DOMA decision, Obamacare already helps ensure that LGBT couples will have better access to the health care they need. Obamacare’s state-levels health insurance marketplaces will not be allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. As states design their marketplaces, some of them are taking extra steps to ensure LGBT protections under the health law. Obamacare’s consumer protections also take significant steps forward to help Americans living with HIV, now that insurers can’t discriminate against HIV-positive individuals and HIV drugs will be more affordable.