Monday, October 10, 2005

Taxes, Domestic Partners, Marriage

Conservatives like to claim to be all in favor of tax breaks, except of course when those breaks might benefit gay couples. Likewise, they are all about getting government's nose out of private business, except for when private business wants to actually help out gay couples.

See, I'm currently in the process of enrolling in my medical benefits for next year, which is a great way to get a "nice" reminder that, while domestic partner benefits may be a lot better than nothing, they are not anywhere close to "marriage." I should probably point out that my company was acquired last year, so this is the first time I'm enrolling in the new company's plan.**

So, I go to add Laura as a dependent and I get a reminder that I need to provide additional documentation on our relationship. Funny, I strongly suspect that the married folks don't need to fax copies of their marriage certificate to someone two states away, but OK, whatever. We'll fill out the form and track down a notary public.

Then there is the tax issue. Most people don't think about the portion of their health benefits that the employer pays--they only worry about the amount taken out of each check. In our case, we need to worry about both.

First, the payroll deductions that cover MY part of the benefits are all nicely pre-tax, thus lowering my overall tax burden a smidge. The deductions for Laura's part, however, are not. They will be deducted post-tax. OK, it isn't a huge amount and it isn't as though it would put me in a different tax bracket, but still, it is a difference. I suspect this difference would become even greater if we were to throw a kid or two into the mix.

Then there is the matter of the premium that the company pays for our benefits. You know, the part that you never see, that you don't even think about. Can you even name the amount your company spends on your health benefits each paycheck? Anyway, for my part of that premium, all is fine and I can pretend it isn't there. But the amount my employer pays for Laura's benefits will be conveniently tacked on to my taxable income and reported to the IRS, so I get to pay taxes on it. How exciting. At the present moment, I have no clue how much this will amount to, but given the rising cost of healthcare I keep hearing about, I suspect it won't be a tiny amount. If my employer's share of the premium is equal to my share, it will be at least $1,500 for the year. I strongly suspect that my employer and I are not splitting the cost of the benefits 50/50, so it will probably be more than that.

And all the "small government conservatives" out there are perfectly happy with this arrangement. More taxes! From certain people, anyway.

Oh, and the part about the government's nose in private business? While poking around to figure out exactly what the DP benefit requirements are, I stumbled across a page indicating that DP benefits were not available in certain states due to state law. That is, the same insurance company that is perfectly happy to cover domestic partners in Illinois is forbidden by state law from providing those benefits to employees in, say, Virginia. There were four or five states on the list -- fortunately not including Montana where we will be living in less than a month. It did look like some of the plans could still be used in those states, but not others.

What do you want to bet that the people behind those particular state laws call themselves "small government conservatives" (also sometimes known as "republicans") when they're not busy passing legislation forbidding insurance companies from selling insurance to certain types of people?

**I should also point out that my complaint here is NOT with my company. I do appreciate the DP coverage and I'm glad it is there. My employer isn't trying to be unfair, they are just constrained by this:
The Internal Revenue Service has ruled that domestic partners cannot be considered spouses for tax purposes. Thus, employers are obligated to report the fair market value of the domestic partner coverage as income to the employee. The employee must pay income tax on that money.
Although I did not know until visiting the above FAQ that legislation was introduced to fix this inequitable situation in 2003. It appears to have been referred to the Ways and Means committee. I've no idea if it ever has hope of seeing the light of day. I do find it interesting that the vast majority of co-sponsors are Democrats. I thought Democrats were the ones who want to make us all pay more in taxes. They must have been confused to co-sponsor a bill that would reduce my taxes!

I am also amused / horrified / saddened by this description of the bill from a so-called "pro-family" site (emphasis mine):
Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act of 2003 attacks the institutions of marriage and family. Current federal law excludes the benefits of employer-provided health coverage for spouses and children from being included as taxable income. However, if those benefits are offered to someone other than a spouse or child, they are taxable. H. 935 seeks to provide special rights for homosexuals by amending the Internal Revenue Code to treat homosexual partners as married spouses so that an employee whose company is providing health insurance for a homosexual domestic partner is no longer taxed on the value of that insurance.
Did they really write that with a straight (ahem) face? They describe (correctly) the inequity in taxation, then state that removing that inequity is giving homosexuals special rights? They have a funny definition for "special." And I don't even want to think about how self-centered you must be to see a change in taxes that doesn't affect you as an "attack" on yourself.

No, I won't provide a link. Just google the full name of the bill ("Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act") and I'm sure you can find it.

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