Conservative pundits claim that the Affordable Care Act will deal a blow to freedom, to capitalism, to the economy, and probably to the baby Jesus and kittens, for good measure. But one traditionally conservative institution that's about to take a beating isn't getting much ink: marriage. Any way you slice it, the Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act is the death knell for the Insurance Wedding, that sometimes secret, often hasty legal leap a desperate couple will make when one party has great insurance and the other has weird chest pains.
As the cost of health care went from expensive to exorbitant, insurance companies got better at finding reasons to refuse people coverage, and hospitals were forced to turn the uninsured away. And thus, several thick volumes' worth of medical insurance horror stories were born — that story of the kid who died because he had an infected tooth, or families left with six figure medical bills after the matriarch dies of cancer. An unmarried person with a preexisting condition that wasn't employed full-time by a company large or generous enough to provide benefits to its employees was doomed to either spend an arm and a leg protecting their arms and legs or go without insurance and be forever one catastrophe away from bankruptcy.
Insurance Marriages had become to the 21st century what shotgun weddings were to jokes about hillbillies. Back in 2004, the LA Times wrote about couples that married for insurance, couples who for varying reasons had not wanted to marry, but who had been driven to marriage by financial necessity. ABC News posted its own roundup of With This Policy, I Thee Wed-style couples in 2008, as did the New York Times. In 2008, 7% of couples who married reported doing so primarily for the insurance benefits.
There's more than one way to Insurance Marry, each of which will likely go the way of the buffalo after all of the provisions of Obamacare take effect (and by "go the way of the buffalo," I don't mean that all people getting insurance married in the future will move to Yellowstone or live on farms and be made into low cholesterol burgers). Of course, there's the secret "let's never speak of this again" Secret Insurance Wedding, which is when the couple doesn't tell anyone that they've gotten married and just keeps it a secret until it eventually comes out when someone's drunk or mad. But other couples I've known have pulled the Real Wedding/Fake Wedding stunt — gotten married, then pretended to get engaged, then gotten wedding'd, pretending during the wedding that they hadn't been married for the last year or whatever. Other couples have chosen the Casual Marriage, a very brief or nonexistent engagement and a courthouse ceremony, perhaps followed by reception food prepared by the chefs at Chipotle and accompanied by music piped in from the local 90's, 2000's, and Today! white people pop music station.
But it's not just marriage that will have to adjust to health care reform; divorce will change as well. The Times mentions insurance divorces in its 2008 piece, and yesterday, readers discussed delaying divorce in order to preserve one party's access to health care. One reader even recalled a relative who remarried her ex husband after he was diagnosed with cancer, so the husband could afford care. But now, goodbye to all that.