If you've recently been denied for Social Security or Medicare benefits after trying to collect on a spouse's work record, you may be exploring your options. If you and your spouse are of the same legal gender, this process can become more complicated. Although an ever-growing number of states will legally solemnize and recognize marriages between same-sex partners, the federal government has been a bit slower to act. However, this may soon be changing with the reintroduction of the Social Security and Medicare Parity Act (SSMPA). Read on to learn more about this Act and how it may affect you and your family.
What is the Social Security and Medicare Parity Act?
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the federal government was prohibited from denying same-sex married couples the same federal benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples. This meant that even same-sex couples residing in states where their marriage was not legally recognized could benefit from the federal programs and policies available to couples in an opposite-sex marriage.
Although this Supreme Court decision took effect immediately, opening up a slew of government benefits to same-sex married couples, there were a few unforeseen loopholes. For example, due to some specific language in the Social Security Administration's (SSA) regulations, the Court's decision did not impact this agency -- the SSA was still legally permitted to deny Social Security disability, death, and retirement benefits to individuals attempting to collect on a same-sex partner's earnings record. Medicare benefits fell within this exception as well.
However, the SSMPA (if enacted) would eliminate this loophole, permitting same-sex partners to collect Social Security Disability, retirement, or Medicare benefits on their spouse's earnings record or receive Social Security survivor benefits in the event of a spouse's untimely death. This Act is seen by many as the final step to establish sexual orientation equality at the federal level.
What effects will this Act have on same-sex couples seeking benefits?
Although this Act has not yet taken effect, it has a great deal of support from both sides of the aisle and should be signed into law soon.
The primary benefit of this Act is that it applies equally at the federal level, regardless of the states' varying treatment of same-sex couples. For example, if you and your partner were legally married in a state that solemnizes same-sex marriages, but reside in a state that does not recognize these marriages, you're still covered under the SSMPA, and still eligible to seek federal benefits for both you and your spouse. Even if your state is one of the few whose constitutions specifically prohibit same-sex marriages, your federal benefits remain safe while you live in this state.
However, some programs -- like Medicaid -- are funded through federal taxes but administered by the states. Even though these programs are technically federal, because the state is responsible for determining benefit eligibility and distributing funds, the state may have the final word when it comes to your ability to qualify for benefits. If your state doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, you and/or your partner may still legally be denied certain benefits from federally-funded, state-run programs. If you and your partner have children together, the state may permit benefits only for biological (or legally adopted) children.
If you've found yourself seeking certain federal benefits but have been denied due to your marital status, your best bet is to consult an experienced Social Security attorney by viewing a firm online at a site likehttp://www.johnehornattorney.com. This attorney will be able to evaluate the impact of the Act (and other relevant laws) on the facts of your specific case, and can help make a cogent argument to the court or administrative law judge indicating your legal entitlement to certain federal benefits.