Unlike the House version of a health
care reform bill, a Senate version approved by lawmakers on Christmas
Eve does not recognize gay unions. Senators approved the bill on a
narrow 60 to 40 vote.
Lawmakers in each house have approved
vastly different bills, but both would subsidize moderate-income
people who otherwise could not afford quality health insurance.
Those differences will need to be ironed out in a conference
One deviation between the bills is the
way gay families are recognized.
The House version approved in November
includes Representative Jim McDermott's Tax Equity for Health Plan
Beneficiaries Act of 2009, which 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, a Democrat from Washington, introduced the bill
along with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a ranking Republican in the House
Foreign Affairs Committee, in May.
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.”
Representatives also approved language
that would make it illegal to discriminate based on “personal
characteristics” in the delivery of health care.
But neither of these provision are
present in the Senate version.
Allison Herwitt, legislative director
of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights
advocate, told gay weekly The
Bay Area Reporter that the group is “disappointed that the
Senate did not include any of the LGBT-specific provisions that we
have been working to advance throughout the health reform debate.”
Herwitt said her group would continue
to fight for the gay provisions as legislators reconcile the bill's
differences in committee.