Some Couples Face 'Obamacare' Marriage Penalty

Some couples will pay more for health insurance if they are married under the Affordable Care Act's, or "Obamacare's," new health care insurance exchanges.

The exchanges were designed by the ACA to provide health insurance options for those who do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare and do not get health insurance from their employer. Some of those who purchase insurance on the exchanges will receive a subsidy from the federal government.

In order to receive a subsidy, one's household income must be below 400 percent of the poverty level, or about $62,000. Household income for a married couple who both work is the sum of both of their incomes. This means that a dual-income couple could lose their subsidies if they get married.

Imagine, for instance, a couple who each earn $40,000. While single, they both get a subsidy to purchase insurance on the exchange. If they get married, though, their household income rises to $80,000 and they are no longer eligible.

Writing for The Atlantic, Garance Franke-Ruta profiles a couple faced with that decision. Nona Willis Aronowitz and her husband, Aaron Cassara, are contemplating getting divorced so they can afford health insurance.

Their combined 2012 income, slightly higher than $62,000, is not much to live on in New York City, which has one of the highest costs-of-living in the nation, but it is above the cutoff to receive subsidies for insurance. Their premiums would be over $9,000 per year on the exchange. But if they get a divorce, they could get about $4,000 in subsidies.

This is not the first marriage penalty created by the federal government. In the tax code, for instance, some dual-income households pay more in taxes because their combined income places them in a higher tax bracket. And with Medicaid, sometimes getting married makes beneficiaries no longer eligible for the program.

Conservatives have long warned about the ACA's marriage penalty. Some liberals, though, claimed that the complaint was false. A 2011 article by Think Progress, a liberal advocacy group, was titled, "Why the GOP's 'Marriage Penalty' Is A Myth."

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