Published October 27, 2011
A new wrinkle has surfaced in the implementation of the federal health care law that critics argue will impose a significant penalty on women and marriage.
The law includes generous subsidies for the uninsured so they can afford to buy coverage in the new insurance exchanges that are part of the legislation.
But several analysts told Congress Thursday the nature of the subsidies has an odd effect.
"The way this bill is structured, there are disincentives for women to marry and disincentives for women to work," said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. "And for a bill that's supposed to make Americans healthier, these disincentives are truly startling."
Critics say that beginning in 2014, Americans will find it more advantageous to stay single than marry because it will be easier to afford health coverage.
Why? The new law provides generous subsidies for those without insurance so they can buy it on the new exchanges, but the subsidies are tied to one's income level and there's the rub.
The income measure for subsidy purposes are not based on individuals but rather on families. And that creates a perverse incentive.
"Two singles would each be able to earn $43,000 and still receive help to purchase health insurance, but if they got married and combined their earnings to $86,000, they would be far above the limit," Furchtgott-Roth explained.
So those with that much income as a couple would lose the government subsidies and be on their own for thousands of dollars in health coverage.
Democrats were quick to say the new health care law has other advantages-- that it extends care to millions who don’t have it and covers preventive care with no co-pay.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., says the new law is progress.
"While each individual will face unique circumstances and challenges... generally there are significant benefits that result in good health for the American public," he said.
And Sara Collins, an economist who analyzes health insurance for The Commonwealth Fund – a private foundation that aims to improve health care in the country -- added that "when the law is fully implemented, U.S. families will have new, affordable, and comprehensive insurance... options, both in good economic times and in bad."
But critics say that doesn’t change the fact that getting married will make it harder for many to get health insurance.
"Millions of families will be stuck in a no man’s land without affordable coverage through either their employers or the exchanges," said Richard Burkhauser, a professor at Cornell University.
In fact, a Republican analysis shows that only 14 percent of the subsidies will go to married couples.
It took years to get the marriage penalty out of the tax code, but some economists warned Thursday morning that it will come storming back in the new health care law.