Same-sex married couples now have expanded Medicare enrollment options, HHS announces

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Seniors now are eligible to receive premium-free Medicare Part A coverage if they are married to someone of the same sex, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday.

The agency also is extending other Medicare policies to those in same-sex marriages, in the latest expansion of gay people's potential long-term and post-acute care financing options.

Generally, seniors can receive Part A benefits without a monthly premium if they've paid a certain amount in Medicare taxes, usually through their job. Now, individuals in a same-sex marriage can apply for premium-free benefits based on a spouse's employment history, according to HHS. Medicare Part A covers hospital inpatient care as well as certain long-term and post-acute services.

The health department also is now processing requests for Part A and B special enrollment periods and for reductions in certain late enrollment penalties for eligible parties in same-sex marriages.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act in June, ushering in federal recognition of same-sex marriages. This opened up a number of new long-term care financing opportunities; for instance, it enabled public sector employees' same-sex spouses to share long-term care insurance benefits. And Medicare Advantage plans now must enable same-sex couples to reside in the same nursing home.

The changes announced Wednesday also are in response to the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated. 

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