HHS: Same-sex spouses can qualify for Medicare special enrollment

Federal health officials announced Thursday that the government will begin to process requests for Medicare special enrollment periods from same-sex spouses.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the development responds to a Supreme Court decision from last year declaring part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

The ruling in that case, U.S. v. Windsor, means Medicare can recognize same-sex marriages for the purpose of determining eligibility. Thursday's HHS announcement carries out some of the fine print of that change.

"Today’s announcement helps to clarify the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision and to ensure that all married couples are treated equally under the law,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusAligning clinical and community resources improves health Sebelius on GOP healthcare plan: 'I'm not sure what the goal is here' Obama's health secretary to be first female president of American University MORE in a statement.

"We are working together with [Social Security] to process these requests in a timely manner to ensure all beneficiaries, regardless of sexual orientation, are treated fairly under the law."

The change also applies to same-sex spouses seeking reductions in Medicare late enrollment penalties.