The incentives contained in the government-sponsored Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) could lead fewer people to get married and more people to divorce. This is an under-reported perverse incentive in President Obama's signature program that could further undermine a social institution that is already in trouble.
Conservative family scholars have argued that a similar perverse incentive was created when the Great Society welfare programs were enacted in the 1960's. Those incentives destroyed the rewards for family formation and fatherhood by limiting benefits available to two-parent families. Welfare provided a disincentive for fathers to marry mothers. The result was the near dissolution of the African-American two parent family, which is a trend that continues today and has infected the entire working class in the United States. Among people from modest and lower income groups, marriage rates continue to decline and divorce continues to increase. Marriage has become a cultural artifact that is increasingly limited to the upper middle class. That cultural divide is likely to widen under Obamacare.
Correspondingly, critics of Obamacare believe it will make the United States more like the social welfare states in Europe, a continent in which marriage rates have declined precipitously over the past several decades as social welfare has increased. Gender feminists and other political Progressives in the United States support that direction, and believe it is a sign of social progress.
Diana Furchtgott-Roth who writes for the Market Watch Newsletter of the Wall Street Journal, wrote this commentary about how she believes behavior resulting from the incentives under Obamacare could unfold:
"Under the Act, if workers have affordable single-family coverage from an employer — coverage that by law workers are obligated to accept — their family members will not be eligible for premium subsidies on the exchanges. This can make the cost of insurance for some low- or middle-income families unaffordable. But if they divorce, they get the subsidy."
"--- when the law will take full effect, 13 million low-income Americans may be unable to get subsidized health insurance through new state health care exchanges because one family member has employer-provided coverage for that person only."
"Perversely, the only way for other family members to get subsidized coverage would be for the spouses to get divorced. Then the spouse without coverage and the children could get coverage on the exchange."
"This provision of the Act also discourages marriage. Say that Jeff, who receives health insurance from his employer, wants to marry Jenny, who is buying her subsidized health insurance from the state exchange. If they married, Jenny would no longer qualify for subsidized coverage."
"Furthermore, since premium subsidies are on a sliding scale, two married people getting their coverage on the exchange would pay more than if they were single."
This is startling information that has also been reported by Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, who referred to this aspect of Obamacare as a "wedding tax". It may be another reason the implementation of Obamacare should be delayed until the incentives created can be more carefully studied.
You may read more from Kevin at his common sense wisdom blog. His book, Discovering Possibility: A Common Sense Conservative Manifesto, is now available on Kindle. The working title for his upcoming book is, Discovering Possibility: The Revolution for Virtue and Common Sense. Kevin offers common sense community building coaching to grass roots groups around the country that are interested in pursuing common sense approaches to community building.
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