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Will Pro-LGBT Changes Make Health Reform?


Provisions in the House version of health reform legislation that would equalize tax treatment for domestic-partner benefits are not likely to be included in the Senate bill. Instead, LGBT advocates hope the House language will be incorporated into the final bill when the two versions are reconciled in conference.

"Right now, we're working to protect the language during the House-Senate conference," said Allison Herwitt, legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign. "We are optimistic that we will be able to keep the specific provisions in the final bill that gets sent to the president's desk."

The federal government currently treats domestic-partner benefits as taxable income, which results in higher taxation of both employees who cover their same-sex partners and employers who offer such benefits. But under the guidelines authored by Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, enrolling a same-sex partner, a partner's dependent children, or an employee's adult children in employer-based benefits would carry no extra tax penalties. Supporters of the change hope that more medium and small businesses would offer the benefits if the complexities and additional tax burdens were eliminated.

Other pro-LGBT provisions that made the House health legislation include:

-Inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal data collection and health disparity programs;
-Early treatment for HIV under Medicaid, so that individuals do not have to receive an AIDS diagnosis before accessing coverage;
-Protections for LGBT people from discrimination by insurance companies or health care providers based on personal characteristics that are unrelated to health care.

Herwitt said no specific congressional members have emerged as detractors of the language at this time.

The House legislation passed late Saturday night by a vote of 220 to 215, but the timing of the Senate bill is still in flux. Majority Leader Harry Reid has suggested that the vote might move into next year.

But Herwitt still senses a push to move the legislation before next year. "My sources on the Hill say there's an incredible amount of pressure to get the bill started next week on the floor, have it be held over during the Thanksgiving recess, and then get right back to work so they can finish it before the end of the year," Herwitt said.

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