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Quarter of Couples Who Married in 2020 Said 'I Do' for Health Insurance: Survey

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What You Need to Know

  • Millions of people lost employer-sponsored coverage during the pandemic.
  • Most respondents who married for insurance said they'd rather have a separate plan from their spouse.
  • It's OK for a couple with different coverage needs to have two separate health plans to save money, a health insurance professional says.

Of the estimated 1.3 million couples who were married in the U.S. in 2020, 26% said they did so because either they or their partner needed health insurance, according to a new survey from AffordableHealthInsurance.com.

This finding is not particularly surprising considering that nearly half of Americans receive health insurance through their employers. In the first half of 2020, some 7.7 million people lost their jobs because of the pandemic and ensuing economic recession, forcing millions to seek alternative ways to receive health care.

The survey platform Pollfish conducted the online survey in early August among 1,350 American adults who confirmed at the start of the survey that they were married during the pandemic.

Affordable Health Insurance noted that many couples who married in 2020 might have waited until the pandemic was over before doing so, or perhaps had not even intended to get married, but were pressured to do so by job and insurance losses. 

Twenty-eight percent of respondents in the lowest income categories, households making less than $50,000, reported that they had married for insurance.

Getting married for health insurance is a legal alternative, David Clark, lawyer and partner at The Clark Law Office, said in the report. 

“Getting married for health insurance is a common practice, but while it is a taboo subject, it cannot be considered fraud per se provided all the requisites of marriage are met,” Clark said. 

He pointed out that insurance companies require a valid marriage for the spouses to receive the benefit. It does not matter that a marriage was one of convenience.

Preference for Separate Plans

Sixty-five percent of couples surveyed who married for health insurance said they would rather not share a plan with their partner, but this choice is no longer an option for them. 

“Marriage has proven to be a feasible option for people who could not afford health insurance and could not get coverage as individuals,” Clark said. “People who get married will have to bear not just the benefits, but all the obligations, responsibilities and consequences of this binding contract regardless of the reasons behind the marriage.” 

The report said research published in late 2019 found that 29% of married couples would prefer to be on separate health insurance plans, the most common reason being that spousal surcharges can cost as much or more than paying a premium on a second plan.

Affordable Health Insurance noted that as the number of available jobs in the U.S. reaches a new high, married couples may once again enroll in separate, employer-sponsored health care plans that will better suit their individual needs and allow them to save money in the long run.

Noor Ali, a medical doctor and licensed health insurance professional, said in the report that separate plans can actually be more beneficial to couples. “The pandemic has caused millions of Americans to have a change in their benefits,” Noor said. “However, not all of them are fully aware of what all their options really are.”

Her advice: Explore separate policies depending on the insurance need. It is all right for a couple with different coverage needs to have two separate health plans to save money. 

Pandemic’s Toll

Besides getting married for health insurance benefits, 69% of survey respondents also took part in a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act. 

The report said this indicates that in a large percentage of cases, not only did one partner lose access to employer-provided, affordable health care, but at some point, the other partner did as well, as they were exploring options in the marketplace.

Sixty-one percent of respondents said either they or their spouse had settled for a lower-paying job during the pandemic in order for both to receive employer-provided health insurance. 

Affordable Health Insurance said this finding is remarkable since a competitive salary is typically one of the main reasons employees decide to stay or switch jobs, and strongly affects job satisfaction.

Nevertheless, in a time when most people were very concerned about their health and facing limited insurance options, most were willing to take a pay cut in order to ensure that they and their spouse would have coverage.

(Photo: Shutterstock)