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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 28, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 26
McDermott reintroduces tax parity bill
Section One
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McDermott reintroduces tax parity bill

Aims to reduce same-sex couples' unequal health costs

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott (D-7) has reintroduced a bill he sponsored in the last session of Congress to end higher federal tax burdens for workers who cover their same-sex domestic partners on their employer-provided health insurance policies.

The Tax Parity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act is also sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and includes a bipartisan group of co-sponsors.

'Tax inequality for Gay and Lesbian families is not only deeply unjust, it's bad for businesses,' McDermott said in a statement.

'In a time when universal health coverage is our goal, it only makes sense to allow the private sector to easily cover domestic partners, especially when it helps families come closer to reaching the equal rights they deserve.'

'While we continue to work to ensure health-care coverage for every American man, woman, and child, we have to make it clear that this includes the LGBT community as well,' Blumenauer added.

'Progress is not true progress unless everyone is moving forward together. By bringing more equality to the tax code, by including families no matter what they look like, we'll not only increase the number of people covered, but will also increase equality.'

BENEFIT OF MARRIAGE
Under current tax law, employees who receive health benefits for their unmarried partners (whether Gay or straight) pay more than $1,500 each year on average in additional federal taxes, while benefits for married spouses are not taxed.

Employers also pay more in payroll taxes on these benefits, which could discourage them from offering health-care packages that cover unmarried partners.

In addition to domestic partners and same-sex spouses, the bill would provide tax parity for other non-spouse, non-dependent beneficiaries. Benefit-package deductions would be available for most types of insurance plans, such as reimbursement arrangements and savings accounts, and would be available to self-employed individuals as well.

Federal law in this area is lagging considerably behind advances in state domestic relations laws.

While same-sex couples are now allowed to marry in Washington, 11 other states, the District of Columbia, and five Native American nations, those marriages are not necessarily recognized under ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act), the federal law that regulates many employee benefits packages.

The U.S. Labor Department, which has administrative responsibility for ERISA, says it follows state law in defining the domestic status of couples, but the IRS, which also has oversight over ERISA benefits, does not.

NEEDED DESPITE RULING
The striking-down of DOMA by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 might help clarify the issue at least in part, since it removes the rationale for the IRS to treat same-sex spouses differently from opposite-sex ones. But Wednesday's ruling still does not help same-sex couples in states where they cannot marry. Nor does it clarify the status of a couple who married in a state where it was legal to do so, but then moved to a state where their marriage is not recognized.

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