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Obamacare’s hidden marriage penalty

June 6th, 2014

BY NICOLE M. KING

The News Story – The hidden marriage penalty in Obamacare

While intending to provide universal healthcare coverage to all Americans, Obamacare may have unexpected penalties, making it harder for some to obtain health insurance. In particular, married couples at the middle and lower end of the income scale might have to pay more than their unmarried counterparts, when it comes to purchasing health insurance.

According to an article in The Atlantic, “[a]ny married couple that earns more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level—that is $62,040—for a family of two earns too much for subsidies under Obamacare,” yet, if the “same couple lived together unmarried, they could earn up to $45,960 each—$91,920 total—and still be eligible for subsidies.” Given that the cost of health insurance might be higher for the unmarried than the married, it would not be surprising to expect a decrease in marriage among persons of the relevant demographics.

Ironically, though, research indicates that the unmarried are less likely to receive preventative healthcare. Given this, in penalizing the married, Obamacare might be less efficient in achieving its goal than we thought.

The New Research – Timely medical care – for the married

As public health officials grow increasingly worried over runaway medical costs, they pin ever more hope on timely preventive care as a brake on such costs. However in a new study conducted at the Universities of Stirling and Dundee in the United Kingdom, researchers have learned that married men and women are significantly more likely to receive this much needed-care than are their unmarried peers.

The evidence that marriage confers an advantage in preventive medical care emerges in a broader survey of empirical data. To identify the characteristics of those who regularly receive general and preventive health checks, the Stirling and Dundee scholars pored over a very large set of databases and earlier analyses, finally focusing on 39 analyses (13 from North America, 24 from Europe, one from Taiwan, and one from Israel).

These analyses highlight a number of important predictors of regular preventative medical care. The researchers emphasize marital status as one of these predictors: “An individual’s marital status,” they remark, “was found to affect attendance rates, with non-attenders more likely to be single.” In explaining this pattern, the researchers note an earlier study concluding that “the decision to attend a [medical] screening is often made by the [marital] partner, with this initiation behavior prevalent across a number of socio-demographic factors.” Marital status makes a difference for preventative care among both men and women; however, the data indicate that “being married appears to have a stronger effect on [preventive medical care] uptake in men.”

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