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Obama Reaches Out to Same Sex Families Via Medicaid

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Jun 10, 2011
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The Obama administration has provided a measure of protection for gay and lesbian families via Medicaid, the Washington Blade reported on June 10.

The federal government may not recognize same-sex married couples under the provisions of an anti-gay 1996 law, the so-called "Defense of Marriage" Act. But new Medicaid policy guidance issued to state governments on June 10 allows for the expansion of protections to same-sex families that heterosexual married couples have long enjoyed.

The Obama administration issued similarly GLBT-friendly guidelines last year to hospitals, instructing them to extend equitable visitation policies to the same-sex life partners of their patients.

"Under the new guidance, dated June 10, states have the option to allow healthy partners in a same-sex relationship to keep their homes while their partners are receiving support for long-term care under Medicaid, such as care in a nursing home," the Blade article said.

In essence, the guidelines would give states a margin of flexibility to extend to same-sex spouses the same protections that prevent states from seizing the homes of Medicaid patients while the spouse is still living there. Such seizures are illegal under federal law when the married opposite-sex partner of a Medicaid patient is still living in the family home.

"A State can have a policy or rule not to pursue liens when the same-sex spouse or domestic partner of the Medicaid beneficiary continues to lawfully reside in the home," reads one relevant passage in the newly-issued guidelines.

"States have flexibility to design reasonable criteria for determining what constitutes an undue hardship and who may be afforded protection from estate recovery in such instances," another passage reads. "At the State’s discretion, this may include establishing reasonable protections applicable to the same-sex spouse or domestic partner of a deceased Medicaid recipient."

"The guidance doesn’t mandate that same-sex couples receive this protection, but allows states to ’incorporate their criteria for determining when to impose a lien in the Medicaid State plan,’ " the Blade article added.

"Low-income same-sex couples are too often denied equal treatment and the protections offered to other families in their greatest times of need," said Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in a statement, the Blade article reported.

"That is now changing. Today’s guidance represents another important step toward ensuring the rights and dignity of every American are respected by their government."

The new guidelines drew praise from the Human Rights Campaign, which lobbies for legal parity for GLBT individuals and their families.

"No one should have to choose between keeping their home and getting the medical care they need and deserve," said HRC spokesperson Michael Cole-Schwartz.

"This is an important step to give some couples the security and dignity they deserve when they need it most. However," added Cole-Schwartz, "all same-sex couples will remain vulnerable until we end discrimination in marriage and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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