How DOMA ruling will impact Social Security, Medicare benefits

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) means that the spousal benefits of the two most important U.S. retirement programs – Social Security and Medicare – will be extended to married, same-sex couples.

But for some same-sex couples, much will depend on how the Obama Administration, federal agencies and courts interpret and implement the decision.

Social Security and Medicare are the most important pillars of economic support for older Americans, and their spousal benefits are among the most valuable features. Social Security alone keeps 21 million seniors out of poverty, according to U.S. Census data. The survivor and spousal benefits of these programs are a major feature, but under DOMA, they weren’t available to married same-sex couples.

The DOMA ruling also will open up valuable Medicare benefits to some married same-sex couples.

But experts point to ambiguity about exactly how the DOMA decision will reverberate through the Social Security program. Learn more in my column at Reuters Money.