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December 23, 2009
Column #1,478
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 subsidies.

       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 insurance.

       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 decades.

       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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