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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Married Couples Pay More Than Unmarried Under Health Bill

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.

If the bill passes in its current form, it would be far from the first example of federal and social benefits creating incentives to remain single. Under current law, marriage can have a negative impact on a person's ability to claim the earned income tax credit and welfare benefits including food stamps.

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