House members overwhelmingly approved a
health care reform bill Saturday that recognizes gay unions and makes
health care more affordable for gay families.
The Affordable Health Care for
America Act extends Medicaid to subsidize moderate-income people
who otherwise could not afford quality health insurance. Also tucked
inside the bill is Representative Jim McDermott's Tax Equity for
Health Plan Beneficiaries Act of 2009 introduced in May.
McDermott, a Democrat from Washington,
introduced the bill along with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a ranking
Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee from Florida. The
bill alters the tax status of health benefits granted to the spouses
of gay employees. Under the bill, such benefits would no longer be
considered taxable income for the employee.
McDermott told the New York Times
that the bill would “correct a longstanding injustice, end a
blatant inequity in the tax code and help make health care coverage
more affordable for more Americans.”
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.”
Human Rights Campaign, the nation's
largest gay rights advocate, has supported the legislation.
“I meet people all the time who are
gratified they work for companies that offer domestic partner
benefits,” Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign,
said. “But they pass on the benefits because they cannot afford
the taxes that go with the benefits.”
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.