December 23, 2009
Obamacare Penalizes Marriage
By Mike McManus
While abortion and public plan aspects of health reform have been
debated, a far more vexing issue for defenders of the traditional family
should be the very substantial marriage penalties buried in the 2,457
page bill moving through Congress.
Indeed, the low and middle income subsidies in the "health insurance
exchanges" are stacked against marriage - with penalties of up to 100
percent if a cohabiting couple decides to marry!
Individuals, who do not now have insurance, who have incomes up
to $43,500, will be able to buy it at a very low cost due to federal
For example, an individual earning $25,000 would pay only $1,538
in insurance premiums. But what if that person is cohabiting with a
partner with the same income, and they decide to marry? Their premium
is not $3,072, double the cost of one person, but $5,160!
That's a marriage penalty of $2,084!
A cohabiting man earning $32,000 pays a premium of $2,842, as
does the woman. But if they marry, they will pay a whopping $9,316 in
additional premiums! Why? A couple earning $64,000 gets no subsidy.
"This will devastate marriage for the middle class. If this law is
passed, it will do to marriage of the middle class what welfare did to
the poor," says Allen Quist, a Republican candidate for Congress in
Minnesota, who broke the story. "It will create huge incentives not to
marry. There will not be much left of marriage, if this bill passes."
That is an overstatement. Most people who now have private health
insurance, and are married, will not see such a spike for health
However, what uninsured cohabiting couple facing a $2,100 to
$9,300 jump in health costs will marry? Will such perverse incentives
result in more or fewer marriages, or more or fewer stable families in
which to raise children?
That is a prism through which our elected representatives must
view the most significant domestic legislation under consideration in
more than a generation.
Senate Democrats claim to have developed a compromise on the abortion
issue. Not according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Bishop William Murphy of
Rockville Centre, NY and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City wrote to
senators that "federal funds will help subsidize…and promote health
plans that cover elective abortions."
"All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other
people's abortions in a very direct and explicit way, through a separate
premium payment designed to pay for abortion. There is no provision for
individuals to opt out of this abortion payment," they wrote.
Fortunately, an amendment to the House bill did prohibit taxpayer
funding of abortions. But it is the Senate bill that is more likely to
be accepted by a House-Senate conference committee,
A Quinnipiac University poll reports 72% of the public opposes
public funding of abortions, which has been prohibited for three
However, what could emerge as the more important issue is the
penalty for couples who marry and embark on committed relationships that
research has demonstrated is healthier for adults and children.
In my book, "Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers," I noted
that a variety of federal laws already "subsidize the cohabitation of
low income people."
The Institute for American Values reported that a California
cohabiting couple in which he worked full time, and she, part-time with
lower salaries, enjoyed $17,000 in government subsidies, such as $5,280
for welfare, $7,944 in housing subsidies, $1,358 in food stamps, etc.
They had a total income of $34,500.
But if they married, the woman lost many subsidies, dropping their total
income to $30,624. Thus the government is essentially paying this couple
nearly $4,000 NOT to marry.
No wonder the number of cohabiting couples soared from 400,000 in 1960
to 6.8 million in 2008. Obamacare will add new momentum to the trend.
"Government policies on health care should strengthen the well-being of
families. There should be no financial disincentives to marriage,"
asserts Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals.
"Any loopholes which allow cohabiting couples to pay less taxes
or lower insurance premiums than similarly situated married couples
should be eliminated. Indeed, because healthy families are so important
to society and contribute so much to the common good, we should give
married couples preferential tax and benefit treatment."
If Obama and the Democratic Congress reject this common sense
advice, they will pay a heavy political price for doing so.
Only three votes are needed to shift in the House or one in the
Senate to kill the bill.
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