- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 7, 2008

No longer is the theoretical choice between marrying for love or money. For some, a spouse may be considered quite a catch if he or she comes with health benefits.

Seven percent of respondents in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last week said they or someone they knew had made the decision to get married in the last year partly because they could share access to health care benefits.

Granted, a prescription card likely won’t replace mutual attraction or a wedding ring among most people, but the pollsters nonetheless were surprised that the question got affirmative answers at all.

“The fact that marriage and health benefits are even being mentioned suggests something there,” says Mollyann Brodie, vice president of public opinion and media research for the Kaiser Family Foundation. “We are moving into an area in which it is really important to understand better how access to health care is impacting life decision-making.”

Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, says she was not surprised by the findings — partly because marriage decisions often are made in order to not lose government benefits, according to her data analysis.

“Some people are not getting married because they will lose access to Medicaid and other low-income benefits,” she says.

“Financially caring for one another is part of what marriage means,” Ms. Gallagher adds. “We’d like to think we marry our soul mates, but usually we don’t fall desperately in love with a guy who doesn’t have a job.”

The results of the survey of 2,003 adults also show how health care costs are influencing other family and lifestyle decisions. Ms. Brodie says 24 percent of Americans said they skipped a recommended test or treatment recently because of the cost. When that question was asked in a 2005 poll, the result was 17 percent.

Similarly, 37 percent of respondents in the new poll said they skipped a dose of medication, failed to refill a prescription or had problems getting mental health care. In 2005, that number was 31 percent.

Meanwhile, nearly a quarter said they have made job decisions partly based on health care benefits, Ms. Brodie says.

The poll also shows how rising health care costs — coupled with the slowdown in the economy and the rise in food and gas prices — are impacting family finances. Twenty-eight percent of respondents reported they or their families had a serious problem paying for health care and insurance as a result of recent changes in the economy. Paying for health ranked third among serious problems as a result of the economy, behind paying for gas (44 percent) and getting a well-paying job or a salary raise (29 percent).

Almost one-third of families reporting serious economic problems (paying for health care, personal debt, housing or food) earn between $30,000 and $75,000, the poll showed.

Still, District marriage counselor Keith Miller says financial stress doesn’t have as big an impact on marriage as one would think.

“People aren’t coming to me saying that economics are the problem,” Mr. Miller says. “They are much quicker to say their partner is the problem, not money.”

Another Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last week showed that health care costs rank behind the economy and Iraq as important issues for voters in this year’s presidential election.

Meanwhile, a report by researchers at the University of Minnesota and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that Americans who get health insurance for their families through their jobs have seen premiums increase 10 times faster than their income in recent years.

The amount employees paid for family coverage increased 30 percent from 2001 to 2005, but family policyholders’ income increased just 3 percent over the same time.

The study also showed that fewer employees are working in private-sector jobs that offer insurance; fewer businesses are offering benefits to employees and fewer people have private health insurance coverage.

U.S. Census figures say 47 million Americans do not have any health insurance.

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