Inclusion of provisions that would
recognize gay families in a health care reform bill currently before
Congress are in peril of being axed after Democratic leaders decided
not to reconcile two versions of the bill.
The decision to move ahead with a
single bill was made Tuesday night in a private meeting attended by
President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, The Hill reported.
The Democratic leaders' decision to
back the Senate version – narrowly approved by lawmakers on
Christmas Eve – could spell doom for the gay provisions only found
in the House version.
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 provisions are
present in the Senate version now being lauded by Democratic leaders.
Openly gay Massachusetts Representative
Barney Frank told Keen News Service that room for negotiation
remains, even if the two bills are not merged in committee. Frank
said the House will attempt to negotiate compromises on the bill,
including tacking on similar gay-inclusive amendments.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's
largest gay rights advocate, says it will continue to lobby for the