It was one of the biggest applause lines in President Obama’s State of the Union address, drawing cheers from both sides of the aisle. “We’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples,” Obama said. “What makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one. And we want to encourage that. We want to help that.”
Wonderful sentiment, but Obama’s signature legislative achievement creates such a powerful “financial deterrent” to marriage that even one former Obama administration official warns that Obamacare will increase the divorce rate among lower-income families.
Like most government benefit programs, Obamacare is rife with perverse incentives. Among them is a definition of “affordability” based on the cost of individual coverage, regardless of whether family coverage is affordable.
This was explained by former Obama Treasury Department official David Gamage in The Wall Street Journal last year. “Consider a couple with children in which one of the parents earns most of the family’s income. If the couple marries, the family would lose thousands of dollars of subsidies that could otherwise be used to pay for health insurance for the children and the lower-income spouse,” Gamage said. “If the couple is already married, divorce may be their only option for obtaining affordable insurance for their children and the lower-income parent.”
The phase-out schedule for subsidies creates an additional disincentive to marriage. As economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute explained in testimony to a congressional hearing: “Health insurance premium credits in the new law are linked not directly to income, but to the poverty line, resulting in a particularly steep marriage penalty for low-income Americans. With $10,890 as the poverty line for one person and an additional $3,820 for a spouse, marriage means less government help with health insurance.”
By accelerating family break-up, Obamacare will also worsen health outcomes. Research has consistently shown that married people have better health, longer lives, and better survival rates for some diseases. Children of intact marriages also have lower infant mortality and better physical and mental health outcomes. There is also a well-documented connection between marital status and child poverty.
It might sound good for Obama to extol the virtues of marriage and family, but what does it accomplish if his signature policy pushes strongly in the opposite direction? If we’re serious about encouraging marriage, repealing or delaying Obamacare should be an urgent priority.
Phil Kerpen is president of American Commitment.