Obamacare Wedding Tax? Not so much.

Post by Rob Taber

A common theme in the last Harry Potter book is how mystery can create terror. Voldemort and the Death Eaters are bad enough, but then not knowing when or how they're going to show up, what powers they have, or what, exactly, they're going to do, makes the good witches and wizards even more terrified.

Which brings us to the Affordable Care Act, and the latest (old) rumor to be circulating around: that Obamacare includes a massive wedding tax that's going to be levied against us Mormons and other upstanding people who are married or desire to be married, leading to a rash of divorce as people do whatever they can to avoid the tax, which will invade our communities and homes, leading to . . . well, I'll let you fill in the rest.

But it's just not so.

Here's what's going on:

1. As part of the marketplace, where insurance companies compete--in a market--for new customers (those of us without employer coverage, Medicare, or Medicaid), our nation is providing subsidies to those making less than 400% of the federal poverty line, so we can put in some of our money, taking responsibility for ourselves without breaking the bank.

2. Because our nation still holds to the traditional view that couples only start living together once they're married, it assumes that once two people are married, they save money by sharing housing and other durable goods. (What economists call economies of scale, just on a household level.) This economic situation is one reason church leaders teach against having children out of wedlock or getting divorced unless there are very serious reasons: it's much more expensive, on a per-person basis, to live as a single person than as a married couple.

3. In an effort to save taxpayer money, the designers of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) decided to take into account this reality of traditional marriage, and provide slightly higher subsidies to individuals than they would receive if they married one another and (presumably) started living together.

4. The Heritage Foundation, designers of the framework for the ACA, but now more of a partisan group rather than a (very conservative) policy shop, picks this effort to cut government spending and labels it a "federal wedding tax." (This is back in January of 2010.) This is the primary article that's circulating among my friends on Facebook. This gets picked up Representative Darrell Issa (R-California) almost two years later, though Rep. Issa, one of the senior Republicans in the house, is yet to champion a bill that would actually spend more taxpayer funds to increase the subsidies for married couples. (There's more on this from ThinkProgress here.)

5. Which brings us to today. With the roll-out of the marketplaces just days away, old bogeymen about the ACA are making the rounds again. It's absolutely fine to debate the proper level of subsidies for single and married adults, but whatever one's position: it's a gross stretch of things to call this a "federal wedding tax" or "Obamacare wedding tax." It's not a tax. It's just our nation trying to pinch pennies by assuming that married couples live together and benefit from this union.

When I was a full-time missionary, I quickly learned to ask people at the end of lessons, "What are your questions?" instead of "Do you have questions?" because everyone had questions but were often too shy to admit it. Whatever your questions about the Affordable Care Act, the marketplaces, no copays for preventative care, no more pre-existing condition denials, etc. go to Healthcare.gov, which was designed to answer them. (If you're just looking for a quick overview with cool graphics, you can go here.)

I'm a big believer in the idea that when folks are in good health, and find it economically feasible to visit a doctor for well and sick visits, they're better able to exercise their agency to the fullest. I think this is crucial for our community and our families. I welcome debate on the best way to reach this goal, with just one rule: don't make stuff up.

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