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Obama administration opens Medicare to same-sex married couples

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on "Patient Pr
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on "Patient Pr

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration announced on Thursday that same-sex married couples can qualify for Medicare hospital and physician benefits for the first time.

The decision, coming after a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a federal ban against same-sex marriage, allows the Social Security Administration (SSA) to determine the eligibility of married gay applicants to Medicare, the federal government's healthcare program for the elderly and the disabled.

"We are working together with SSA to process these requests in a timely manner to ensure all beneficiaries, regardless of sexual orientation, are treated fairly under the law," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)said the government has begun the enrollment process for some same-sex spouses while handling requests for special enrollment periods from others. CMS oversees the $635 billion Medicare program. But SSA determines eligibility.

"If you're in, or are a surviving spouse of, a same-sex marriage, we encourage you to apply for Medicare if you think you might be eligible," CMS said in a web posting.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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