Cost of Federal Government's Benefits Expansion to Same-Sex Couples Unknown, Sources Say

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  • Journalists stake out positions early in the morning to report on decisions expected in two cases regarding same-sex marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, June 26, 2013
    (Photo: REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan)
    Journalists stake out positions early in the morning to report on decisions expected in two cases regarding same-sex marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, June 26, 2013
By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post Reporter
September 5, 2013|4:30 pm

As multiple federal government entities look towards expanding their benefits programs to include same-sex spouses, estimates as to the cost of such expansions have not been calculated.

According to multiple sources The Christian Post has queried, no estimates exist for how much expanding federal government and military benefits to same-sex spouses will cost financially.  This is the case even though certain benchmarks for implementation of the new policies for benefits have come and gone.

In June, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which disallowed federal benefits to married same-sex couples, was unconstitutional.  Known as United States v. Windsor, the decision ruled that the key DOMA provision violated the Fifth Amendment and interfered with state power to define marriage.

Due to the Court's ruling, federal government departments including the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Health and Human Services have announced changes to their benefits policies.

"We do not have an estimate"

In July, the Office of Personnel Management sent out an email to federal employees explaining that because of the Windsor decision they are expanding benefits to include same-sex couples.

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"As a result of this decision, the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is now able to extend benefits to Federal employees and annuitants who have legally married a spouse of the same sex," reads the email in part.  "There are numerous benefits that are affected by the Supreme Court's decision, and OPM is committed to working with the Department of Justice to ensure swift and seamless implementation of the Court's ruling."

Edmund Byrnes, spokesman for the OPM, told The Christian Post via an email sent August 1 that the expansion was indeed connected to Windsor and the Fiscal Year 2014 would see more.

"There are numerous benefits that are affected by the Supreme Court's decision, and OPM is committed to working with the Department of Justice to ensure swift and seamless implementation of the Court's ruling," wrote Byrnes.

However at that point, explained Byrnes, they did "not have an estimate of same sex spouses that may be added" to the federal government health insurance program (FEHB).

According to the OPM email, employees interested in making changes to various benefits including FEHB, Life Insurance (FEGLI), Dental and Vision Insurance (FEDVIP), and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) had a deadline of August 26.

"The following benefits may now be extended to same-sex spouses and their eligible family members. Employees have until August 26, 2013 to make immediate changes," read the OPM email.

"On background, I was told that our original answers stand," wrote Byrnes in an email sent the day after the deadline passed.

Further queries to OPM have not resulted in an estimate of either the number of personnel who requested changes to their benefits nor the expected cost once those changes are implemented.

"Just the tip of the iceberg"

Last month, the Department of Defense announced that due to Windsor it would extend benefits to same-sex spouses of both uniformed service members and civilian employees.

According to a press release, "the Defense Department will make spousal and family benefits available no later than Sept. 3, 2013, regardless of sexual orientation, as long as service member-sponsors provide a valid marriage certificate."

The DoD statement explained that benefits including TRICARE enrollment, basic allowance for housing (BAH) and family separation allowance were "retroactive to the date of the Supreme Court's decision."

"Any claims to entitlements before that date will not be granted. For those members married after June 26, 2013, entitlements begin at the date of marriage," continued the press release.

Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, spokesman for the DoD, told The Christian Post via email in August that "we will assess costs as we move forward with implementation."

"Additionally, we do not have an estimate of how many people this will impact. All spousal and family benefits, including ID Cards, will be made available no later than September 3," wrote Christensen.

When CP later contacted Christensen again as to whether DoD had an estimate, he responded that "Sept. 3 is just the tip of the iceberg" and that "we won't know for some time."

In correspondence with Christensen earlier this week, the spokesman said that he had "no new stats" for CP.

A part of the DoD's decision already garnering controversy has been their decision to grant "non-chargeable leave" to military personnel planning to have a same-sex marriage.  "We recognize that same-sex military couples who are not stationed in a jurisdiction that permits same-sex marriage would have to travel to another jurisdiction to marry," reads the DOD news release.

"That is why the department will implement policies to allow military personnel in such a relationship non-chargeable leave for the purpose of travelling to a jurisdiction where such a marriage may occur."

The Family Research Council has launched an effort to remove a measure from the National Defense Authorization Bill for 2014 that funds this "special leave."

This "special leave" represented unequal treatment of military personnel, argued FRC President Tony Perkins in a statement emailed to supporters last month.

"This special leave – only for destination weddings of homosexual couples – is above and beyond the regular annual leave granted to every service member," wrote Perkins.

"The first of many steps"

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that same-sex spouses were eligible for Medicare benefits.

In a statement provided by an HHS spokesperson, the department sought to clarify that all beneficiaries "have access to equal coverage when it comes to care in a nursing home where their spouse lives."

"HHS is working swiftly to implement the Supreme Court's decision and maximize federal recognition of same-sex spouses in HHS programs," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement.

"Today's announcement is the first of many steps that we will be taking over the coming months to clarify the effects of the Supreme Court's decision and to ensure that gay and lesbian married couples are treated equally under the law."

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner explained in a statement the change from how things operated while Section 3 of DOMA was law.

"Prior to this, a beneficiary in a same-sex marriage enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan did not have equal access to such coverage and, as a result, could have faced time away from his or her spouse or higher costs because of the way that marriage was defined for this purpose," said Tavenner.

An HHS spokesperson provided CP with the press statement and added that no further comment could be made on the record. However one source within HHS said off the record that this expansion would not likely add additional cost.

No Relevant Work

In addition to no present estimates for the possible costs of the expansions from OPM, the DoD, or HHS, there has been no research done by the United States Government Accountability Office.

Jennifer Ashley of the Public Affairs for GAO told The Christian Post via an email sent Wednesday morning that "we have not done any relevant work."

The Christian Post queried the Congressional Budget Office yesterday; however as of Thursday morning they have not returned comment.

Edmund Byrnes of the Office of Personnel Management told CP that prior to the Windsor decision approximately 8.2 million people participated in the FEHB, a $45 billion program.

 

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