Would You Marry Someone for Their Health Insurance?

Brandy Brady and Rick Huggins of Lake Charles, Louisiana, met in February at a Mardi Gras party and fell in love. They both feel certain they would have eventually married each other regardless of their current circumstances, but the fact that they decided to marry each other by April, after dating for only two months, was so that Brandy could be added to Rick’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance policy.

Brandy Brady has end-stage renal disease. After a kidney transplant last year left her with lots of medical bills, an unpredictable medical future, no job, and no healthcare, she met Rick, and the rest was a no-brainer. According to a recent New York Times feature article which tells Brandy and Rick’s story and others, more and more couples are marrying, divorcing, or staying together when they want to divorce because of health insurance issues.

A recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (a health advocacy group) found that 7% of all participants had at least one family member who had recently arranged marriage or divorce around issues of insurance coverage. More and more often, marriage is becoming a financial necessity driven by factors of health, legality, and the constraints imposed upon a financially struggling society by the insurance industry.

I can personally validate that poll, if not scientifically, at least in my own gut reaction. I personally know of at least three people who would obtain a divorce today were it not for the fact that the partner with a chronic, serious illness would be instantly thrown into such dire straights that not even Rasputin would have the heart to go through with it. So they carry on separate lives, married in name only, so one of them can stay alive.

On the other end of the spectrum are married people with medical debt who divorce so that the one carrying the debt can file bankruptcy and they can continue with their lives with a roof over their heads, the only difference being a document saying they are no longer man and wife. It doesn’t take much to pile up unfathomable medical debt anymore, even with insurance. A triple bypass or a bout with cancer will do it quickly. But even a lesser emergency can cause a financial strain severe enough to leave people throwing romance aside and shuffling through their legal options just to stay afloat.

With recent data showing inflation at 17 year highs and real wages dropping like SUVs pushed off a faulty infrastructure bridge, considerations of marriage are once again drifting back to the practical and the necessary. Today’s healthcare crisis adds a final straw to the already crushing financial weight pushing against the lofty principals of love, affection, and holiness we used to demand in matrimony.

Let’s not kid ourselves: it takes two incomes, sometimes three or four, to successfully run a household these days, and somebody in that household better have some health insurance that covers all the members. Frost that with a love story if you can. Love makes it all more palatable, but it doesn’t change the fundamental reality facing today’s families.

I’m reminded of something I learned as a freshman psychology student: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Abraham Maslow, a famous humanist, posited that in order for human beings to self-actualize (become their own best true selves), they first had to have basic needs met. In other words, people who spend 18 hours a day hunting and gathering don’t create art or philosophy; that sort of elevated activity only comes about in a society that is well-fed, sheltered, and healthy.

Reading Maslow in college in the 1970s left all of us feeling sad for the third world unfortunates who were so busy pounding taro root in the hot sun that they would never get to, well, read Maslow. Who knew that thirty years later we’d be looking for books on how to pound taro root? Actually, those old psychology texts are heavy enough to pound grain, and they’d also keep a small household warm for several nights if that household is lucky enough to have a pellet stove.

All kidding aside, we need a single payer national healthcare plan and we needed it yesterday. I’m under no illusions that such a plan will materialize quickly if ever. In the meantime, lonely hearts with great insurance plans are in luck!

At least say you like long walks on the beach, though. It makes the whole thing a little less awkward.

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