In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court found Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. One upshoot of the decision was the increased accessibility that same-sex couples would have to private health insurance. The ruling would make it possible for employees to have their same-sex spouse and children added to their company health benefit plan, and for more benefits to be given to spouses on federally-funded programs like Medicare.
Truly, this decision holds the possibility of impacting a great number of people who have not had equal access to private health insurance in the past. Likewise, this decision presents an opportunity for health communicators to target a relatively untapped demographic. If you live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, messages directed at these individuals regarding health insurance could put you ahead of the game. Like so many complicated matters, people are often unaware of their opportunities, and it’s our job to help shine some light on the subject. With that in mind, the following is critical information regarding some pivotal groups.
Less than two weeks ago the Department for Health and Human Services released a statement that they would be working with the Social Security Administration to provide Medicare benefits to same-sex couples. This, in conjunction with the change to DOMA, means same-sex spouses would no longer have to pay taxes on the value of health insurance that was considered income prior to this time. Additionally, same-sex spouses covered under private Medicare plans are entitled to Medicare coverage for care in a nursing home where their spouse lives.
Children and Teenagers
With private health insurance benefits now available for same-sex spouses, children in these families now have access to health benefits. Research has found a connection between the health of teenagers and children and the accessibility of private health insurance, or the lack thereof. A recent study published in Pediatrics found an unequal access to private health insurance. Althought 78 percent of children with heterosexual parents have private health insurance, only 68 percent of children with two mothers, and 63 percent of children with two fathers have access to private health insurance. When considered in conjuction with education level and income of parents, the parents of same-sex parents are 39 to 45 percent less likely to have private health insurance compared to their peers with heterosexual parents. A gap exists in the percentage of children that are uninsured—7 percent for those with heterosexual parents and 10 percent for children with two fathers.
This snapshot of groups that stand to benefit from the changes to DOMA and the recent announcements made by HHS regarding entitlement to Medicare is not meant to be exhaustive. Instead, it should serve as a reminder that an opportunity exists for health communicators to learn more about the court rulings regarding same-sex couples and private health insurance and then create messages that will both resonante with, and educate same-sex couples about their rights.