The high cost of health insurance is forcing some singles to marry just so they can get a “blue card.”
The good news? I got a big rock the other day. The bad news? It’s in my kidney — or rather, it’s lodged somewhere in the pipeline between my kidney and what I’ve come to refer to as the southern Lake District.
At least that’s what I learned after a day of tests and X-rays at my local health care complex. The doctor was very nice about the kidney-stone diagnosis, even while he was scaring the wits out of me with descriptions of “intense” pain and talk of a possible visit to the ER. But, as with most people, it was the potential out-of pocket medical costs that really chilled me to the bone. Not the sort of thing anybody wants to think about these days, especially someone with an individual health insurance plan with a deductible roughly the size of Spain’s annual operating budget.
Normally, this kind of thing wouldn’t get to me — and certainly wouldn’t make me question my happily single status. But thanks to the pain — or maybe the pain meds — I’m feeling a little muzzy. I’m seeing visions of a grimacing blonde outside of some clinic with a cardboard sign that reads “Will work for CT scan.” Even worse, I’m wondering if what I really need, after all, is a man with a big package — health insurance package, that is.
This is not the same as saying I want some poor schmuck to support me — to buy me a house, a pink Miata, a lifetime supply of tennis bracelets and pedicures and impossibly expensive shoes. I love my profession and I love my financial independence. But what I don’t love is the fact that good health care is so out of reach for a certain segment of society that it’s starting to make people consider all sorts of wacky schemes in order to “get some.”
In 2007, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 7 percent of U.S. adults got married not because they were madly in love but because one or the other needed health insurance. One of those people was Sheryl, a 38-year-old divorced mom with a diabetic daughter, whose $1,000-a-month COBRA payments became impossible to sustain when the recession hit and her job went commission-only. Desperate, she agreed to marry the well-insured guy she was dating.
“I wouldn’t have married an ogre under any circumstances, but I definitely hurried down the marital path because I needed health insurance for my child,” Sheryl says. “Fortunately, we’re all thriving, but it angers me that I married a man who deserved to be married on his own merits alone, that I had to take some Third World approach because I needed my child to survive.”
Are the economy, the unemployment rate and our out-of-whack health care system warping our dating and mating priorities? Will we be forced to eschew love for friends-with-benefits-type arrangements — except instead of sex, the benefits are free prescriptions, low co-pays and little to no deductibles?
Rajiv, a 41-year-old bachelor from Los Angeles, says he recently went on a first date with a woman who said good health insurance coverage was something she was looking for in a mate. “If you’re not in a situation where you can afford insurance, I guess you look for a partner who will either share the cost or bear the cost,” he says. “This is the first time it’s come up on a date, but she was self-employed, and the other people I’ve been out with were working for companies and already covered.”
Considering the skyrocketing costs of insurance, many singletons are starting to think about boring practical concerns, like whether or not our single status is more important than the hundreds of dollars we’re shelling out for individual health coverage — and that’s for those lucky enough to not have a pre-existing condition that prevents one from getting any coverage at all.
James, a 52-year-old self-employed construction inspector, said he and his girlfriend would have lived together ad infinitum, but after he switched from a city job to self-employment, he simply couldn’t afford to stay single. “The cost was definitely prohibitive,” he says. “So we went ahead and got married. Why pump out $800 a month to get the same coverage when I could just be added to her policy for free or very little? We both felt we wanted to spend our lives together, so it didn’t matter all that much. But people shouldn’t have to get married for that kind of reason.”
Still, some are.
In fact, three minutes of surfing around Craigslist turned up a guy in Orange County looking to enter into a “contract marriage” with a woman with good health coverage, and a woman in Colorado desperate to marry someone with health insurance after losing her job (and her health care benefits). Hmmm . . . wonder if she has a kidney stone, too. Are “blue card” marriages the shape of things to come?
“I am doubtful that we will see an across-the-board increase,” says Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, A History. “People are aware enough of the costs of divorce and property division that I expect many will be more, rather than less, cautious.” She says that rather than prompting a rash of insurance-based marriages, the economy will encourage more couples to move in together so they can share expenses. She also anticipates more unhappy marrieds will stay put, since they can’t afford to move into separate homes.
Ironically, the U.S. government recently launched a $5 million media campaign extolling the virtues of marriage, which, according to its research, include greater happiness, greater wealth and better health. Hello! If health insurance weren’t tied to arbitrary factors like whether or not you’re involved in a government-sanctioned sleeping arrangement, there wouldn’t be as many sickly singles out there. Or as Nicky Grist, executive director of the nonprofit Alternatives to Marriage Project, more eloquently puts it, “Should government and society privilege marriage over all other relationships? Our answer is no.
“Equally decent, equally affordable, equally available health care should not depend on a person’s being involved in a socially recognized romantic relationship,” Grist continues. Her organization advocates for a universal health care system that hinges on neither marital status nor employment. “It should be something that every individual has. We’re the world’s biggest romantics here at Alternatives to Marriage Project. We think people should form relationships and make them official in whatever way they like. But they should do so for reasons of love, not money — or health insurance.”
Oh, government. Oh, society. Oh, love. Oh lord, this kidney stone hurts. I’d be downright depressed, except I know that none of this can possibly last forever — not health care inequities, not economic upheaval, not even pain-induced fantasies about marriage bailouts. As my doctor put it the other day, this too shall pass.
Copyright © Diane Mapes/2011 Singular Communications, LLC.