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Married Couples Pay More Than Unmarried Under Health Bill
WASHINGTON -- Some married couples would pay thousands of dollars more for the same health insurance coverage as unmarried people living together, under the health insurance overhaul plan pending in Congress.
The built-in "marriage penalty" in both House and Senate healthcare bills has received scant attention. But for scores of low-income and middle-income couples, it could mean a hike of $2,000 or more in annual insurance premiums the moment they say "I do."
The disparity comes about in part because subsidies for purchasing health insurance under the plan from congressional Democrats are pegged to federal poverty guidelines. That has the effect of limiting subsidies for married couples with a combined income, compared to if the individuals are single.
People who get their health insurance through an employer wouldn't be affected. Only people that buy subsidized insurance through new exchanges set up by the legislation stand to be impacted. About 17 million people would receive such subsidies in 2016 under the House plan, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.
Democratic staff responsible for writing portions of the bill told the Journal that health-care legislation did include a marriage penalty. However they defended the existence of the penalty on the grounds that making government subsidies neutral toward marriage would lead to married couples with a sole breadwinner receiving more in subsidies than a single-parent of the same income - a situation they regard as unfair.
But others counter that the injustice lies in discouraging individuals struggling to make ends meet from seeking the benefits of marriage.
"This seems to not only penalize the married, but also those who would have the most to gain from marriage -- the poor," Jenny Tyree, an analyst at the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, told the Journal.