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In This Issue:
Former LGBT & Friends Co-chairs Tina Gelsomino and Kevin Ard, MD, collaborated with BWH, BWFH and Partners leaders to enact a subsidy for same-sex married employees to help offset a federal tax penalty.
During a monthly lunch meeting in fall 2011, BWH/BWFH's LGBT & Friends Employee Resource Group members decided to take action on a cause close to many of their hearts.
"One of the big issues for the group was the tax that employees with same-sex spouses paid on spouses' benefits," said former LGBT & Friends Co-chair Tina Gelsomino, MSW, LCSW, of BWH's Center for Faculty Development & Diversity (CFDD).
At the time, while employees with opposite-sex spouses could have their contributions for health care coverage deducted on a pre-tax basis, employees with same-sex spouses were not legally permitted to do so. The average cost to same-sex married employees was roughly $2,000 per year.
"We wanted to get behind this issue and make a recommendation to senior leadership to help ensure that same-sex married couples were not disadvantaged by the federal tax law," said Gelsomino.
They started close to home, sending a letter to Chief Financial Officer Michael Reney, MBA; Senior Vice President of Research Barbara Bierer, MD; and BWFH Chief Operating Officer Michael Gustafson, MD, MBA. Select members met with these leaders, who were unanimously supportive from the start.
"We gathered data, worked with Human Resources and CFDD and framed a strategy to present to Partners HealthCare in summer 2012," said Bierer. "We told Partners that BWH and BWFH wanted to provide a subsidy for same-sex married employees to off-set the cost of the tax, and we would love if they joined us."
Paul Cheney, director of Benefits for Partners, and his team assisted the group, providing additional data. Partners supported the effort, and by spring 2013, enacted a system-wide subsidy.
Around the same time, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)-under which employers were prevented from providing employee benefits to same-sex spouses on an equal basis with opposite-sex spouses-was under review in the federal court system. BWH, along with other Partners institutions and city organizations, joined an amicus brief, informing the U.S. Supreme Court of DOMA's harm to families and its negative effect on employers and businesses.
By April of this year, BWH and BWFH-both recognized as "Leaders in LGBT Healthcare Equality" in the 2013 Healthcare Equality Index-had begun providing an annual financial subsidy of $2,360, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013, to employees enrolled in same-sex spouse health care coverage. The Benefits Office also offered a special enrollment period for employees who were not enrolled in same-sex spouse health coverage, but who wished to enroll after the subsidy took effect.
In June, the Supreme Court struck down the portion of DOMA that denied same-sex couples married under state law of their right to equal liberty under the Fifth Amendment. As such, beginning this month, all medical, dental and vision contributions-for employees with opposite- or same-sex spouses-will be deducted on a pre-tax basis. Employees with same-sex spouses will no longer be taxed on the value of these benefits, and employees participating in a Health Care or Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account will be able to submit expenses for their spouse and legal dependents, which will now also be processed on a pre-tax basis.
"We were very happy when the court came back with a favorable ruling, which eliminates the need for the subsidy going forward," Reney said. "This experience was the first time LBGT & Friends really tackled a social justice issue. We know we work for an organization that is empathetic and wants to treat all employees fairly, and so it felt great to come back to the group and tell them their ideas, work and advocacy were going to result in something meaningful for the community."
Added Gelsomino: "This entire process has been a real opportunity to bring people together to make a positive impact. We felt heard and very supported by the institution. I am proud of and grateful to the group and our senior leaders for being committed to making this an equitable place for LGBT employees, patients and families."
As a result of the DOMA ruling, through Sept. 16, 2013, the
Benefits Office will hold a special open enrollment period for
benefits-eligible employees who wish to enroll in same-sex spouse medical,
dental and/or vision coverage. If you are interested in enrolling, please
contact the Benefits Office at 617-726-8133 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about LGBT & Friends,