Medicare is a federal program, and the federal government does not recognize domestic partnerships based on a 1996 law. Hence, domestic partners must file as unmarried individuals when signing up for Medicare, and the program does not treat partners the same as married couples.
In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, into law. The law defines marriage as between one man and one woman, bars federal agencies, entities, departments and programs, including Medicare, from recognizing other marriage-like relationships and allows states to ignore marriage-like arrangements granted by other states.
Medicare is a federal program that heavily subsidizes health care for people over 65 or under 65 with certain medical conditions. When you sign up for Medicare, the form will ask if you are married. Married heterosexual couples can coordinate their care to some degree, pay slightly lower premiums and share a joint account. The savings from signing up jointly is much smaller than when filing jointly for private health insurance. Domestic partners of any gender must sign up as individuals.
A number of federal programs extend some benefits to those affected by DOMA by extending family-member status or next-of-kin status. Medicare technically considers domestic partners to be family members, hence, the few instances in which a benefit includes family members, such as hospital visitation rights, domestic partners are also eligible.
Private insurance companies often recognize domestic partners even in states where the state government does not offer that recognition. Many insurance companies allow domestic partners to file jointly or sign on to one partner’s employer-provided group policy.