Monday, November 09, 2009

U.S. House moves to extend health benefits to gay couples

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a health care reform bill Saturday that recognizes gay unions and makes health care more affordable for gay families.

Titled The Affordable Health Care for America Act, it extends Medicaid to subsidize moderate-income people who otherwise could not afford quality health insurance. Also tucked inside the bill is U.S. Representative Jim McDermott's (D-Washington) Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act of 2009 introduced in May.

The bill alters the tax status of health benefits granted to the spouses of gay employees (for states that have gay marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships). Under the bill, such benefits would no longer be considered taxable income for employees.

A report released in 2007 by M. V. Lee Badgett, research director at the Williams Institute, found that gay employees with partners pay, on average, $1,069 per year more in taxes than would a married employee with the same coverage.

"Collectively, unmarried couples lose $178 million per year to additional taxes," the report says. “U.S. employers also pay a total of $57 million per year in additional payroll taxes because of this unequal tax treatment."

Fifty-nine percent of Fortune 500 companies offer partner benefits, up from 40% in 2003, a 2009 Human Rights Campaign report says.

The legislation now moves to the Senate, where its future remains uncertain.

Kentucky's Mitch McConnell (R) a senior Senator and the U.S. Senate Minority Leader will like vote against it, or worse still, attempt to stop the bill in the U.S. Senate.


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