DOMA, SCOTUS and 8/26

By on July 28, 2013 in Current Events with 3 Comments

August 26, 2013, is an important day for federal employees and retirees who are in legally recognized same-sex marriages.  On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional.  Section 3 of DOMA provided that “marriage” meant only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and that “spouse” referred only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.

By ruling this Section unconstitutional, the door was opened to provide federal employment benefits to all legally married couples, regardless of their gender.  Because same-sex marriages were not recognized by the Federal government before this change, all legal same-sex marriages that occurred before the date of the decision (6/26/2013) are being treated as new marriages.

Marriage is a “qualifying life event” for the purpose of changing many federal benefits.  This change in the law creates an opportunity for employees in newly-recognized same-sex marriages to make changes.  As there is a 60 day period after a qualifying life event during which an employee can make changes to their federal benefits.  Therefore, affected employees have until 8/26/2013 to make enrollment changes.

It is important to note that the SCOTUS decision affects only same-sex couples who are legally married.  It did nothing to the status of same-sex couples who are in a civil union or any other form of domestic partnership other than marriage.  Therefore, individuals in those situations remain ineligible for most federal benefits.

For FEHB (Federal Employee Health Benefits):

Legally married same-sex spouses will now be eligible family members under a Self and Family enrollment.  This coverage is available to a legally married same-sex spouse of a federal employee or retiree, regardless of his/her state of residency.

If an FEHB enrollee currently has a Self and Family enrollment, his/her newly eligible spouse and/or children were automatically covered under FEHB as of 6/26/2013.  It is the enrollee’s responsibility to provide their FEHB plans with personal information about the newly-covered spouse and children.

If an FEHB enrollee currently has a Self Only enrollment, he/she can change the FEHB enrollment to Self and Family in order to cover the newly-recognized spouse and children.

If an employee in a legal same-sex marriage is not currently enrolled in the FEHB, this change provides an opportunity to enroll.  He/she can elect Self Only or Self and Family coverage.

For FEGLI (Federal Employees Group Life Insurance):

Same-sex spouses and children of same-sex marriages are now eligible family members under Option C (Family) life insurance.  They also have the same standing in the beneficiary “order of precedence” as opposite-sex spouses and children.

Individuals in legal same-sex marriages who are not currently enrolled in the FEGLI program can enroll because of this newly-recognized marital status.

Affected individuals who are currently enrolled can increase their coverage (add Optional coverage or increase the multiples of existing Optional coverage) because of this change in marital status.

If affected individuals already have Option C (Family) coverage, their legally married same-sex spouse and children of the marriage are automatically covered under the existing enrollment.

For FEDVIP (Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program):

The spouses and children of legal same-sex marriages are now eligible family members under FEDVIP.

If affected individuals are currently enrolled for Self and Family coverage, same-sex spouses and children of the marriages are automatically covered.  Be sure to notify BENEFEDS of these new family members.

Affected individuals who are currently enrolled for Self Only or Self Plus One coverage should contact BENEFEDS to see what changes they may be able to make.

For FLTCIP (Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program):

Legally married same-sex spouses of Federal employees and retirees are now considered qualified relatives who are eligible to apply for FLTCIP coverage.  (The FLTCIP already considered same-sex domestic partners as qualified relatives; the recent SCOTUS’ decision on DOMA did not change this.)

Newly-eligible legally married same-sex spouses have until 8/26/2013 to apply for coverage with abbreviated underwriting.  After that date, they can still apply for coverage, but will be subject to full underwriting.

Parents and adult children of legally married same-sex spouses are also now eligible to apply for coverage, subject to full underwriting.

For FSAs (Flexible Spending Accounts):

Effective 6/26/2013, an employee who is enrolled in FSAFEDS may request reimbursement for eligible health care expenses incurred by a legally married same-sex spouse or related child.  Child care for the child of an enrollee’s same-sex spouse is eligible under a dependent care FSA.

Employees in existing same-sex marriages have until 8/26/2013 to enroll in FSAFEDS or to make changes to an existing account.

For all of the above:

Enrollment elections and changes must be received by the appropriate office (e.g., HR, BENEFEDS, etc.) by 8/26/2013.  Enrollments and enrollment changes are usually effective at the beginning of the pay period after receipt.  If an affected employee does not act by 8/26/2013, he/she will need to wait until the next open season to make changes.

John Grobe’s latest book, The Answer Book on Your Federal Employee Benefits, has just been released by LRP Publications. The book is written in an easy to understand question and answer format and covers all areas of federal benefits from the perspective of an employee at various stages of their career. Order your copy at shoplrp.com.

© 2016 John Grobe. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from John Grobe.

About the Author

John Grobe is President of Federal Career Experts, a consulting firm that specializes in federal retirement and career transition issues. He is also affiliated with TSP Safety Net. John retired from federal service after 25 years of progressively more responsible human resources positions. He is the author of Understanding the Federal Retirement Systems and Career Transition: A Guide for Federal Employees, both published by the Federal Management Institute. Federal Career Experts provides pre-retirement seminars for a wide variety of federal agencies.

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