Tag Archives: benefits

Walker proposes new welfare work requirements

Parents who work fewer than 80 hours a month could face food stamp benefit cuts under a proposal Gov. Scott Walker released this week.

Walker’s proposal also would require adults with children between age 6 and 18 to attend job training and search for work five days a week.

The proposals are part of a package called “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” that Walker released during a series of news conferences across the state.

Under current state law, childless adults in the FoodShare program have to meet the work requirement. They lose all food stamp benefits after three months of non-compliance.

Since the law took effect in April 2015, about 64,000 have lost their benefits.

Under Walker’s new proposal, adults with children who don’t meet the program’s work requirements would face a “partial” reduction in benefits. The governor didn’t say how much the loss in benefits could be.

Walker also is calling for a similar work requirement for people receiving housing vouchers from the federal government.

His proposals could require law changes by Congress and waivers from the Trump administration before taking effect. They would also have to pass the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

Walker has been saying that he hopes to work closely with the Trump administration on a variety of initiatives, including on welfare. Walker is expected to seek a third term in 2018 and will be spelling out his priorities for the next two years in the state budget he releases next month.

The governor provided few details of the welfare reform package this week, saying those would come in the budget.

Both of the new work requirements would begin as pilot programs, but Walker didn’t say where. His outline also doesn’t say how much the new requirements would cost.

Walker said he also reduce child-care assistance from the state once people become employed. Once someone becomes employed and hits 200 percent of the poverty line, the person would start contributing $1 copay for child care for every $3 earned.

Walker also is calling on the Trump administration to clear the way for the state to drug test some welfare recipients.

“We fundamentally believe that public assistance should be a trampoline not a hammock,” Walker said.

Robert Kraig, with the progressive advocacy group Wisconsin Citizen Action, criticized Walker’s proposals, saying they will do nothing to help create more family supporting jobs. Kraig said Walker was penalizing low-income residents for their own poverty.

State Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Walker wants to create one set of rules for working families and another set of rules for the wealthy and well-connected.

“For too many hardworking Wisconsin families, Gov. Walker’s race-to-the-bottom economy is not working for them. Republican tax breaks that favor millionaires and corporations are shifting a greater burden onto workers,” Shilling said. “Since Gov. Walker took office in 2011, Wisconsin has fallen below the national average for job creation for 20 consecutive quarters. If Gov. Walker really wants to help workers and grow our middle class, Democrats stand ready with a range of proposals to raise family wages, lower student loan debt, invest in infrastructure and expand child care tax credits. It’s time we reward hard work, not the wealthy and well-connected.”

 

If Republicans repeal health law, how will they pay for replacement?

Leading Republicans have vowed that even if they repeal most of the Affordable Care Act early in 2017, a replacement will not hurt those currently receiving benefits.

Republicans will seek to ensure that “no one is worse off,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in an interview with a Wisconsin newspaper earlier this month. “The purpose here is to bring relief to people who are suffering from Obamacare so that they can get something better.”

But that may be difficult for one big reason — Republicans have also pledged to repeal the taxes that Democrats used to pay for their health law. Without that funding, Republicans will have far less money to spend on whatever they opt for as a replacement.

“It will be hard to have comparable coverage if they start with less money,” Gail Wilensky, a health economist who ran the Medicare and Medicaid programs under President George H.W. Bush, said in an interview.

“Repealing all the ACA’s taxes as part of repeal and delay only makes a true replacement harder,” wrote Loren Adler and Paul Ginsburg of the Brookings Institution in a white paper out this week. It “would make it much more difficult to achieve a sustainable replacement plan that provides meaningful coverage without increasing deficits.”

The health law’s subsidies to individuals buying insurance and the Medicaid expansion are funded by two big pots of money.

The first is a series of taxes, including levies on individuals with incomes greater than $200,000, health insurers, makers of medical devices, brand-name drugmakers, people who use tanning salons, and employer plans that are so generous they trigger the much-maligned “Cadillac Tax.” Some of those measures have not yet taken effect.

However, the Congressional Budget Office estimated in early 2016 that repealing those provisions would reduce taxes by an estimated $1 trillion over the decade from 2016-2025.

The other big pot of money that funds the benefits in the health law comes from reductions in federal spending for Medicare (and to a lesser extent, Medicaid). Those include trims in the scheduled payments to hospitals, insurance companies and other health care providers, as well as increased premiums for higher-income Medicare beneficiaries.

CBO estimated in 2015 that cancelling the cuts would boost federal spending by $879 billion from 2016 to 2025.

The GOP, in the partial repeal bill that passed in January and was vetoed by President Barack Obama, proposed to cancel the tax increases in the health law, as well as the health premium subsidies and Medicaid expansion. But it would have kept the Medicare and Medicaid payment reductions. Because the benefits that would be repealed cost more than the revenue being lost through the repeal of the taxes, the result would have been net savings to the federal government — to the tune of about $317.5 billion over 10 years, said CBO.

But those savings — even if Republicans could find a way to apply them to a new bill — would not be enough to fund the broad expansion of coverage offered under the ACA.

If Republicans follow that playbook again, their plans for replacement could be hampered because they will still lose access to tax revenues. That means they cannot fund equivalent benefits unless they find some other source of revenue.

Some analysts fear those dollars may come from still more cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

“Medicare and Medicaid face fundamental threats, perhaps the most since they were established in the 1960s,” said Edwin Park of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in a webinar last week.

Republicans in the House, however, have identified one other potential source of funding. “Our plan caps the open-ended tax break on employer-based premiums,” said their proposal, called “A Better Way.”

House Republicans say that would be preferable to the Cadillac Tax in the ACA, which is scheduled to go into effect in 2020 and taxes only the most generous plans.

But health policy analysts say ending the employer tax break could be even more controversial.

Capping the amount of health benefits that workers can accept tax-free “would reduce incentives for employers to continue to offer coverage,” said Georgetown University’s Sabrina Corlette.

James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, which represents large employers, said they would look on such a proposal as potentially more damaging to the future of employer-provided insurance than the Cadillac Tax, which his group has lobbied hard against.

“This is not a time one wants to disrupt the employer marketplace,” said Klein in an interview. “It seems perplexing to think that if the ACA is going to be repealed, either in large part or altogether, it would be succeeded by a proposal imposing a tax on people who get health coverage from their employer.”

Wilensky said that as an economist, getting rid of the tax exclusion for employer-provided health insurance would put her “and all the other economists in seventh heaven.” Economists have argued for years that having the tax code favor benefits over cash wages encourages overly generous insurance and overuse of health services.

But at the same time, she added, “I am painfully aware of how unpopular my most favored change would be.”

Republicans will have one other option if and when they try to replace the ACA’s benefits — not paying for them at all, thus adding to the federal deficit.

While that sounds unlikely for a party dedicated to fiscal responsibility, it wouldn’t be unprecedented. In 2003 the huge Medicare prescription drug law was passed by a Republican Congress — with no specified funding to pay for the benefits.

Republished under a creative commons license via Kaiser Health News.

Fund for Lake Michigan pledges $250K for removal of Estabrook Dam

The Fund for Lake Michigan has pledged $250,000 toward the removal of the Estabrook Dam on the Milwaukee River.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to regain miles of free-flowing river,” Vicki Elkin, executive director of the fund, said in a news release. “The dam removal aligns perfectly with our mission to improve water quality in both Lake Michigan and its tributaries. We’re thrilled to be involved.”

The fund said removing the dam would restore crucial habitat for native fish species including sturgeon, walleye, salmon and trout. It also would restore the river’s natural flow and clear sediment and unsightly debris which accumulates upstream of the dam. 

The crumbling dam on Milwaukee’s northeast side is facing some $4.1 million in repairs along with $200,000 in annual maintenance, according to the news release. Removing the dam altogether would save taxpayers nearly $2.5 million while providing environmental benefits for generations to come.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele applauded the Fund for Lake Michigan for stepping forward as the first private group to pledge money for the project.

 “Taking out the dam means we can invest millions more into our county parks which are destinations both for visitors and our own residents,” Abele said.

Earlier this fall, Abele announced a plan to transfer ownership of the dam from Milwaukee County to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, which has the engineering and management expertise to carry out a large-scale project, such as the dam’s removal.

“We can’t thank the fund and its trustees enough for this bold gesture of support,” said Kevin Shafer, executive director of the MMSD. “This is an exciting project for the ecosystem and for the entire region. It’s going to save money, improve fishing opportunities and reduce the risk of future flooding.”

“The Fund for Lake Michigan has stepped up in a big way to protect the Milwaukee River watershed,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett stated. “Removing the dam will improve water quality and reduce flooding.  On behalf of the city of Milwaukee, I thank the fund for this generous and environmentally sound investment.”

On the Web

The Take It Down campaign.

Court: Walker’s union restrictions voided teacher retirement

A state appeals court says Gov. Scott Walker’s public union restrictions voided retirement benefits for Neenah teachers.

Neenah schools and teachers negotiated a two-year contract in 2009 that provided a stipend and medical benefits to retiring teachers.

The contract included an evergreen clause that guaranteed the deal would continue after the contract expired.

Lawmakers passed Walker’s restrictions in 2011.

Neenah schools subsequently reduced benefits, prompting teachers to sue.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled recently that the school district acted properly, finding the 2009 contract didn’t extend benefits beyond its expiration and the union restrictions voided the evergreen clause.

The teachers’ attorney, Charles Hertel, said he doesn’t believe the union restrictions invalidated pre-existing clauses and plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Bill to ban local government IDs goes to Walker

The Wisconsin Legislature has passed a bill that would stall Milwaukee’s efforts to provide local photo IDs to the homeless, immigrants in the country illegally and others who have difficulty obtaining state IDs.

The Republican bill would prohibit towns and counties from spending money on or issuing photo IDs. It would also prohibit using city or village ID cards to vote or obtain public benefits, like food stamps.

Opponents call the bill anti-immigrant and say it’s aimed at Milwaukee plans to issue local IDs to assist with everyday tasks like opening a bank account. The bill’s supporters say it will reduce confusion and fraud.

The Senate passed the bill 19-13 Feb. 16. The Assembly followed suit hours later, approving the measure 62-35. It goes next to Gov. Scott Walker.

GOP bill to repeal health care law pointless political theater, say Dems

The GOP-led Congress sent legislation to President Barack Obama on Jan. 6 repealing his signature health law, fulfilling a promise to Republican voters in a presidential election year but inviting a certain veto.

The nearly party-line vote in the House was 240-181. The legislation had already passed the Senate last year under special rules protecting it from Democratic obstruction, so it goes straight to the White House.

Republicans boasted of a signal achievement, saying they were forcing Obama to face up to the failures of his law while illustrating the stark political choices voters face.

“We are confronting the president with the hard, honest truth,” said Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. “Obamacare doesn’t work.”

Democrats called it pointless political theater that will have the same ultimate outcome as the 61 previous repeal votes that were blocked in the Senate, since Obama will veto the legislation.

“A bill that is going to the White House, that will get the fastest veto we’ve ever seen happen in this country, is a monumental vote?” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. “This is just a waste of everyone’s time.”

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has decried the repeal legislation while leading GOP candidates applauded it. Ryan and other GOP leaders acknowledged it will take a Republican president to get rid of the law. But they said that is the point.

“It is our opportunity as Republicans to lay out the choice for the American people,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California predicted that a Republican president will be in the White House next year and Congress will pass the repeal legislation again, “but we won’t have to worry about a veto from the White House.”

For maximum visibility Republican leaders made the legislation, which also cuts federal funding for Planned Parenthood, their first major vote of 2016. Although they don’t command sufficient votes to override a presidential veto, they hope to schedule the override vote to coincide with the Jan. 22 March for Life in Washington commemorating the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Yet Ryan hedged when asked whether the House will ever vote on a GOP replacement to Obamacare. Ryan has pledged that the House will come up with its own plan this year, something the GOP has repeatedly promised but failed to do in the nearly six years since the law’s enactment. But he said details such as whether this plan will actually come to a vote have not been determined.

“Nothing’s been decided yet,” Ryan said. “Just wait.”

Three Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the repeal bill: Reps. Robert Dold of Illinois, and Richard Hanna and John Katko of New York. One Democrat voted for it: Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

The bill would dismantle the health law’s key pillars, including requirements that most people obtain coverage and larger employers offer it to workers.

It would eliminate the expansion of Medicaid coverage to additional lower-income people and the government’s subsidies for many who buy policies on newly created insurance marketplaces. And it would end taxes the law imposed to cover its costs.

More than 16 million Americans have gained health coverage since the law was enacted, according to government figures. They could risk losing it under the GOP approach. Republicans argue the health law has driven up costs and hurt consumers, and they promise “patient-centered” solutions in its place.

The bill would also terminate the roughly $450 million yearly in federal dollars that go to Planned Parenthood, about a third of its budget. A perennial target of conservatives, the group came under intensified GOP pressure last year over providing fetal tissue for research.

Planned Parenthood officials and Democratic lawmakers accused Republicans in floor debate of attacking women’s health. Republicans, in turn, took to the floor to critique Planned Parenthood in graphic terms, accusing the group of killing babies.

South Dakota campaign drives for medical marijuana

New Approach South Dakota is collecting signatures for a proposal to make medical marijuana legal.

The initiative would appear on the 2016 ballot if supporters can collect enough signatures by Nov. 9.

If the proposal appears on the 2016 ballot and is approved by the voters, it would:

• Legalize the medical use of marijuana for patients with a medical practitioner’s certification and one of several listed conditions, including cancer, AIDS/HIV, seizure disorders, PTSD, and severe pain.

• Allow patients and their caregivers to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis and grow six plants.

• Create a licensing system to provide patients with safe access to medical cannabis, allow businesses to process, dispense and test medical cannabis products.

• Prohibit public smoking and driving under the influence of marijuana.

Obama observes Labor Day, denounces GOP for ‘constant attack on working Americans’

President Barack Obama, at a Labor Day observance, denounced Republicans for a “constant attack on working Americans.”

The president said he was using his executive power to force federal contractors to give paid sick leave to their employees.

His statement was met with resounding applause at a major union rally and breakfast in Boston on Labor Day.

The president said Republicans who claim the mantle of middle-class protectors are talking big, but they “have to walk the walk.”

Obama said opponents of his economic policies “won’t let facts or evidence get in their way.”

“You just wait, you look up at the sky and prosperity will come raining down on us from the top of whatever high-rise in New York City,” he said sarcastically. “But that’s not how the economy works.” He added that the GOP’s mindset has been “wrecking the economy for a long, long time.”

Under the executive order, employees working on federal contracts gain the right to a minimum of one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours they work. Stretched out over 12 months, that’s up to seven days per year. The order will allow employees to use the leave to care for sick relatives as well, and will affect contracts starting in 2017 — just as Obama leaves office.

But the White House wouldn’t specify the cost to federal contractors to implement the executive order. The Labor Department said any costs would be offset by savings that contractors would see as a result of lower attrition rates and increased worker loyalty, but produced nothing to back that up.

Obama was flanked by prominent Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and a giant banner reading “Workers and Community” in red, white and blue. Labor leaders Randi Weingarten and Mary Kay Henry joined Obama for the flight on Air Force One. In the corridors of the hotel hosting the breakfast, boxes of campaign signs could be spotted bearing the name of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who opposes the trade deals.

Obama chose Labor Day to announce the executive order as he works to enact what workplace policies he can before his presidency ends despite resistance in Congress to laws he’s proposed. The push has reverberated on the 2016 campaign trail, with Democrats seeking a distinction with Republicans on who’s most supportive of the middle class.

The president didn’t mention any of the 2016 candidates by name, but invoked a number of their policies to challenge claims that they care about workers. In a reference to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, he remarked incredulously that one GOP candidate had “said busting unions prepared him to fight ISIL,” an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Obama chose Massachusetts as the backdrop for his Labor Day message because voters in the state approved a similar paid leave policy state-wide. The law took effect July 1 and is expected to affect 900,000 workers who previously received no paid leave, the White House said.

Roughly 44 million American private sector workers don’t get paid sick leave, the administration said. The White House said it couldn’t estimate how many federal contractors don’t offer paid leave.

Happy birthday and many more: Social Security turning 80

As Social Security approaches its 80th birthday Friday, the federal government’s largest benefit program stands at a pivotal point in its history.

Relatively modest changes to taxes and benefits could still save it for generations of Americans to come, but Congress must act quickly, and even limited changes are politically difficult.

The longer lawmakers wait, the harder it will become to maintain Social Security as a program that pays for itself, a key feature since President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935.

“The more time that they take, the less acceptable the changes will be because there needs to be adequate time for the public to prepare and to adjust to whatever changes Congress will make,” Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration, said in an interview.

Social Security’s long-term financial problems are largely a result of demographic changes. As baby boomers swell the ranks of retirees, relatively fewer workers are left to pay taxes.

In 1960, there were more than five workers for every person receiving Social Security. Today there are fewer than three. In 20 years, there will be about two workers for every person getting benefits.

“Remember, these are our most vulnerable population,” Colvin said. “These are the elderly who helped to build this country. These are the disabled who certainly did not wish to become disabled.”

The options fall into broad categories: benefit cuts, tax increases or a combination of both.

None is popular.

Nearly 60 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get monthly Social Security payments, a number that is projected to grow to 90 million over the next two decades.

About 168 million workers pay Social Security taxes.

Adding to the gridlock, policymakers are moving in opposite directions. Republicans are pushing to cut benefits while a growing number of Democrats is pulling to expand them. The debate is playing out in Congress and the presidential campaign, increasing the likelihood that Washington will deal with Social Security the same way it has so many other issues – not until it becomes a crisis.

Some 72 members of Congress signed a letter to President Barack Obama in July, calling for Social Security benefits to be enhanced.

“In my view, given the fact that poverty among seniors is going up, that seniors are struggling, that people with disabilities are struggling, we have got to expand benefits, not cut them,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is running for the Democratic nomination for president.

The poverty rate among those 65 and older has inched up in recent years. But it still is significantly lower than the poverty rate for younger age groups, in large part because of Social Security.

Sanders has proposed increasing Social Security’s annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, and increasing minimum benefits for low-wage workers.

The average monthly payment is $1,221. That comes to about $14,700 a year.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, scoffs at the idea of expanding benefits.

“Where are they going to get the money?” asked Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Social Security. “They don’t ever seem to give any consideration to how deeply in debt our country is and how difficult it’s going to be to get out of it.”

For much of the past three decades, Social Security produced big surpluses, collecting more in taxes than it paid in benefits. Social Security’s combined trust funds are now valued at $2.8 trillion.

The retirement trust fund has enough money to pay full benefits until 2035. At that point, the program would collect enough payroll taxes to pay about 79 percent of benefits, triggering an automatic 21 percent cut.

The disability trust fund is projected to run out of reserves much sooner, in late 2016. If that happens, it would trigger an automatic 19 percent cut in benefits.

Obama and other Democrats want to redirect tax revenue from the much bigger retirement fund to the disability fund, as Congress has done in the past. But Republicans say that would be like robbing seniors to pay the disabled.

If the two funds were combined, they would have enough money to pay full benefits for both programs until 2034, according to the trustees.

But long before then, Social Security’s long-term financial problems could become too big to solve without painful remedies or excessive borrowing.

Once the surplus is gone, the gap between scheduled benefits and projected tax revenues starts off big and quickly becomes huge. In the first year, the gap would be $571 billion, according to agency data. Over the first decade, the deficit would total more than $7 trillion.

Social Security uses a 75-year window to forecast its finances, so the projections cover the life expectancy of every worker paying into the system.

Options to address Social Security’s finances, along with the share of the 75-year shortfall that each one would eliminate:

TAXES

Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on wages. Workers pay half and their employers pay the other half. The tax is applied to the first $118,500 of a worker’s wages, a level that increases each year with inflation.

Options:

-apply the payroll tax to all wages, including those above $118,500. This option would wipe out 66 percent of the shortfall.

-increase the combined payroll tax rate by 0.1 percentage point a year, until it reaches 14.4 percent in 20 years. This option would eliminate 49 percent of the shortfall.

RETIREMENT AGE

Workers qualify for full retirement benefits at age 66, a threshold that gradually rises to 67 for people born in 1960 or later. Workers are eligible for early retirement at 62, though monthly benefits are reduced.

Options:

-gradually increase the full retirement age until it reaches 68 in 2033. This option would eliminate 15 percent of the shortfall.

-raise the early retirement age to 64 in 2023, and the full retirement age to 69 in 2027. This option would wipe out 29 percent of the shortfall.

COLAs

Each year, if consumer prices increase, Social Security benefits go up as well. By law, the increases are pegged to an inflation index. This year, benefits went up by 1.7 percent.

Options:

-adopt a new inflation index called the Chained CPI, which assumes that people change their buying habits when prices increase to reduce the impact on their pocketbooks. The Chained CPI would reduce the annual COLA by 0.3 percentage point, on average.

This option would eliminate 19 percent of the shortfall.

-adopt a new measure of inflation that takes into account the higher costs that older people have to pay for health care. This measure, called the CPI for the Elderly, would increase the annual COLA by about 0.2 percentage point, on average.

This option would increase the shortfall by 13 percent.

On the Web…

How would you fix Social Security? http://interactives.ap.org/2012/social-security/

Walmart sued for denying benefits to same-sex couples

A Massachusetts woman filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday accusing Wal-Mart of wrongly denying employee benefits for same-sex spouses.

Jacqueline Cote says Wal-Mart repeatedly denied medical insurance for her wife before 2014, when the retail giant started offering benefits for same-sex spouses.

The couple incurred at least $150,000 in medical costs after Cote’s wife, Dee Smithson, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston seeks damages for the couple and for any other Wal-Mart employees who weren’t offered insurance for their same-sex spouses. It asks for money to cover out-of-pocket medical costs and for other punitive damages.

Cote said in a call with reporters that the financial stress worsened Smithson’s suffering through cancer treatments.

“I’m following through with this for my wife and actually for anyone else who has suffered a similar injustice,” Cote said.

Wal-Mart issued a statement Tuesday noting it expanded benefits last year to include same-sex spouses and domestic partners. “We have not yet seen the details of the lawsuit and out of respect for Ms. Cote we are not going to comment other than to say our benefits coverage previous to the 2014 update was consistent with the law,” the Bentonville, Arkansas, company said.

Cote, of New Bedford, previously took her case to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which decided in January that Wal-Mart’s denial amounted to discrimination and ordered the company to provide a “just resolution” for violating Cote’s civil rights.

In an interview, Cote said they “weren’t able to work it out.” The commission gave her permission to sue in May.

The lawsuit, filed with the help of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, claims that hundreds or thousands of the company’s employees had been denied benefits before Wal-Mart offered insurance for same-sex spouses in 2014.

“Wal-Mart’s position that it has no continuing, legal obligation to provide these benefits equally to same-sex spouses creates significant uncertainty and insecurity for Jackie, Dee and other same-sex married couples,” according to the complaint.

The nonprofit GLAD said Cote’s case is the first class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of gay workers since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in June.

Cote and Smithson met in Cape Cod in 1991 and later they both worked at Wal-Mart stores in Maine and Massachusetts. They were married in Massachusetts in 2004, just days after same-sex marriage was legalized there.

Smithson quit her job in 2007 to take care of Cote’s elderly mother. That prompted Cote to try to add Smithson to her health plan the following year.

Cote said she tried to enroll online, but the system wouldn’t let her proceed when she indicated her spouse was a woman. When she sought an official explanation, she was told that same-sex spouses were not covered.

Each year thereafter, she tried and failed to enroll Smithson — including in 2012, when Smithson got her cancer diagnosis.

In 2014, the cancer returned and Smithson went through another round of chemotherapy, Cote said, but it took a heavy toll on her health.

“Right now Dee’s receiving hospice care at home,” Cote said. “We take things one day at a time and try to make the most out of every hour that we get to spend together.”