The Obamacare marriage penalty

On December 2, 2015, the public radio station (WUSF) here in the Tampa Bay area ran a story about what they called the “family glitch” in Obamacare.  As you will see in this article, this alleged “glitch” is misnamed and should instead be called what it is: the Obamacare marriage penalty. Furthermore, the evidence shows that this is not a “glitch”, but rather a feature of yet another ill-conceived federal program.

First, the terminology: what some people call “Obamacare” is the nickname for the federal law called the “Affordable Care Act”. Often abbreviated the ACA, some critics call it “ZeroCare” because it doesn’t actually provide care. Instead, the ACA requires you to buy health insurance. If you can’t afford to buy the kind of health insurance the government says you need, you don’t necessarily get care or subsidized health insurance. Instead, you get a fine from the IRS. Below is the story of one such “fined” young person.

sherry_poulinThe public radio “news report” told the story of  a  Fort Myers woman named Sherry Poulin (pictured on right) who has a chronic medical condition. Ms. Poulin actually had subsidized (=taxpayer funded) health insurance for herself and her child through the ACA, and this insurance only cost her $50 per month.  But Ms. Poulin made a big mistake in 2014: she got married. You see, her husband Louis works for an employer who offers “affordable health insurance” (as that term is defined under the ACA). As a result of getting married, Ms. Poulin lost her subsidy, and the plan her husband’s employer offered Ms. Poulin and her child cost “about $500 per month” according to Ms. Poulin.

The outcome of all this? Ms. Poulin now has no health insurance.

It’s fairly easy to understand how Ms. Poulin uninsured herself. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with 50 or more employees must offer “affordable” health insurance options to employees in order to avoid federal tax penalties for themselves. An affordable plan for the employee can’t cost more than 9.5 percent of the household income. But the plan for the rest of the family does not have to be “affordable”.

The bottom line is this: the entire family becomes ineligible for subsidies if the coverage offered for just the employee is “affordable”…regardless of whether the family coverage is “affordable”.


You can read the rest of Ms. Poulin’s story yourself, including the part where Ms. Poulin’s mother says that the fact that her daughter now has no health insurance “breaks her heart”. But Ms. Poulin’s mother, Laura Brennaman, isn’t just anybody. She is the policy director for Florida CHAIN, a group that “advocates for affordable health”.

Florida CHAIN and Ms. Brennaman have been major supporters of the ACA . It wasn’t even six months ago that Ms. Brennaman said in a Tampa Bay Times article that the ACA “is doing what is it supposed to do.”  Yet when her daughter now is negatively impacted, Ms. Brennaman uses her media contacts to run a tearjerker story without first looking at some the solutions available to her daughter and granddaughter.

The simplest solution would have been for Ms. Poulin to not get married in the first place. In fact, all the alleged “ACA Marketplace Success Stories” that Florida CHAIN publicizes appear to involve unmarried mothers (or perhaps women married to men whose employers offer no health insurance). The strategy is simple: live with your partner, but don’t marry that partner. Or marry a partner whose employer offers no health insurance. Then the government will reward you using other people’s money.

Before we go on, let’s pause and reflect on the irony here. Ms. Poulin’s mother is a healthcare “policy director” for a pro-ACA organization….yet the mother failed to save her daughter from a pitfall that her organization has “saved” many other women from.

Divorce cartoonEnough about what Ms. Poulin shouldn’t have done. The situation at hand is that Ms. Poulin did get married, so what is she to do now? One simple solution is for Ms. Poulin to separate or get divorced from her husband Louis, but continue living together. Ms. Poulin and her daughter will then once again qualify for subsidies (or Medicaid). The taxpayers, including those who cannot afford health insurance, will surely understand that they must subsidize Ms. Poulin. No?

You might think that divorce is a cruel suggestion, but why should Ms. Poulin be exempted from the hard decisions other Americans are being forced in to by ZeroCare? One impoverished couple in Tennessee had been married for 33 years, but have now separated so that the epileptic wife with spinal stenosis and rods in her back can receive taxpayer-funded healthcare.  Meanwhile, the 62 year old husband lives without health insurance and hopes that this hernia won’t cause a bowel obstruction. Read the full story here if you wish.

HowTheGlitchStoleHealthcare_editedTo be clear: I am not saying “punish Ms. Poulin for the actions of her mother”. What I am saying is that the IRS, as administrators of the ACA, has ruled that the language of section 36B of the ACA was clear. The IRS’s decision was published in the Federal Register three years ago and no one has successfully challenged their interpretation in court since. All the facts thus tell us that the IRS interpreted the law correctly. Therefore, I say to Ms. Poulin: live with the outcome. Embrace the outcome and the great wisdom of ZeroCare! The tax code does not exist in order to satisfy your desire for a white wedding and your desire to be a married woman.

Florida CHAIN, the group behind this fake tearjerker story, has repeatedly used and promoted the term “family glitch” (here, here and here as just a few examples) to describe the outcome discussed in this article. But this negative outcome that they call “the family glitch” ONLY occurs when people get married. Therefore, it is a consequence of getting married and has nothing to do with being a family.

Let me use the language of the left for a paragraph: Florida CHAIN demeans single moms and all unmarried couples by saying they are not a family until they are married. Their non-inclusive (and therefore hateful) use of the term “family” must stop. That is why I have written to Florida CHAIN and demanded that they stop their use of the hateful and non-inclusive term “family glitch”. Gotta stop haters from hating.

Having established that single moms and their brood are also families, let’s note that Sherry Poulin can still call herself and her daughter a family after she divorces her husband. Cruel? No, I am just using the alleged “logic” of the left.

efficiency_expert_welfare_770705Organizations like the Brooking Institution and others have repeatedly told us to “celebrate single mothers”. CNN tells  single mothers to “stand proud”.  However, 37% of single moms lack financial self-sufficiency, whereas that number is 7% for married-parent families.  Also, children from single-parent homes are more than twice as likely to be arrested for a juvenile crime, twice as likely to be treated for emotional and behavioral problems and twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school. These children face a much bleaker future, and this is nothing to celebrate. Read more on the downsides of single-parent families here.

Without denigrating any single parent, let’s acknowledge that the data shows that having two parents in a household is preferable to having one.  It’s better for the children, it’s better for the parents and it’s better for the taxpayers who otherwise have to pay. The misguided “celebrate single moms” ideology of the self-named so-called progressives (a.k.a. regressives) ignores economic realities, is contrary to what history has repeatedly demonstrated,  and also flies in the face of human nature.

obamacare glitch edited

Finally, we must address the claim that Obamacare’s penalty on marriage is just a “glitch”. No, it isn’t. Like most other federal policies and laws, Obamacare discourages marriage, discourages work, discourages self-reliance and will lead to economic collapse.  Policies like Obamacare always do, and history tells us so.

Let’s call the misnamed “family glitch” what it is: a marriage penalty. It isn’t the first marriage penalty in federal law, and it won’t be the last.

When the collapse of all social safety nets arrives, you’ll know who to hold responsible. Elected officials and “leaders” who embrace statism and/or give in to pressure from groups like Florida CHAIN deserve whatever outcomes and “glitches” come their way.


UPDATE – after publishing, I asked a single mother to review my article. I wanted to make sure that nothing appeared angry, hateful or gratuitous, because that was and is not in my heart.  I did want the article to be a bit caustic, a bit strident…but most of all: effective.

My friend wrote and said: “Excellent article. In my opinion you hit all the main points. My situation was that I was divorced when my children were both under 5 and remarried when my youngest went to college. We were not rich, and I could not afford a car for the longest time. I had to get around with my young kids on our local transit buses.

It’s a source of pride with me that during my almost 20 years of raising my kids alone, and deadbeat dad contributing NOTHING, I took not one penny from the government.

I am sick of society praising, actually encouraging, single motherhood, many women choosing that path, and then whining about being a single mother. That just ticks me off.”

Those are the opinions of one single mom, and I am sure there are others.



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