Despite the obvious challenges presented by the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, an estimated 1,267,877 couples were married in the U.S. during 2020. Why would so many couples choose not to wait until it was safer and easier to gather with friends and family?
Though many went ahead with the ceremony simply because it was already planned, a notable percentage of couples actually tied the knot because of health insurance benefits. Job losses, and therefore health insurance losses, along with financial hardship, forced many people to get creative with their coverage during the long months of the pandemic.
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According to recent estimates, nearly 50% of Americans receive health insurance through their employers. And during the first half of 2020 alone, an estimated 7.7 million people lost their jobs due to the pandemic and ensuing economic recession. As such, millions of Americans were forced to look for alternative ways to receive healthcare coverage, an imperative as the threat of hospitalization was ever-present.
Of the 1,350 married couples we surveyed, all who were married during the pandemic, 26% stated that they went through with the marriage because either they or their partner needed health insurance. It’s very possible that many of these couples would have waited for the pandemic to be over before marrying, or perhaps weren’t intending to actually marry at all, if they hadn’t been pressured by job and insurance losses. Respondents in the lowest income categories (household making under $50K) were slightly more likely to say they married for insurance, at 28%.
Getting married for health insurance is an alternative, explains David Clark, lawyer and partner at The Clark Law Office. “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,” he clarified. “Insurance companies require a valid marriage for the spouses to avail of the benefit, regardless or not if it was a marriage for convenience,” Clark added.
“My now wife and I decided to get married during the pandemic, in January of ,” said Leo Ramirez, co-founder of GrubbyCat. “We decided to go ahead and do this for financial reasons. As much as we were looking forward to a great wedding…we decided to put it off and take advantage of being able to add her to my work insurance plan,” he continued.
According to a study published in late 2019, 29% of married couples would actually prefer to be on separate health insurance plans, the most common reason being that spousal surcharges can actually cost as much or even more than paying a premium on a second plan.
Dr. Noor Ali, medical doctor and licensed health insurance professional, agrees that separate plans can actually be more beneficial to couples. “The pandemic has caused millions of Americans to have a change in their benefits. However, not all of them are fully aware of what all their options really are,” she commented.
“My expert advice is to explore separate policies depending on the insurance need. For example, if a woman is seeking coverage for maternity, her spouse or partner does not necessarily need to be on that same plan. They have different coverage needs and that’s okay to have two separate health plans to save money,” she continued.
Of the couples we surveyed who married for health insurance, a whopping 65% agreed that they would rather not share a plan with their partner. However, this choice was no longer an option for them. As the number of available jobs in the U.S. reaches a new high, it’s possible that married couples will once again enroll in separate, employer-sponsored healthcare plans that will better suit their individual needs and allow them to save money in the long run.
In addition to getting married for health insurance benefits, 69% also took part in a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act. This indicates that for a large percentage of couples, not only did one partner lose access to employer-provided, affordable healthcare, but it’s likely that at some point the other partner did too if they were exploring options in the marketplace.
61% of survey respondents said that either they or their spouse settled for a lower paying job during the pandemic so that they could receive employer-provided health insurance. This 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, during 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 they and their spouse would have coverage.
“Marriage has proven to be a feasible option for people who could not afford health insurance and could not get coverage as individuals,” continued David Clark. “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,” he finished.
The job losses and healthcare stresses during the pandemic forced many people to get creative with their coverage, from preemptive marriages to accepting lower paying jobs. Though the majority of those surveyed would actually prefer to have a separate health insurance plan from their partner, more than a quarter stated that they decided to get married because they needed to share insurance. As job availability is surging, it will be interesting to see if this continues to be a reason for couples to tie the knot, or if many will revert to separate, employer-sponsored health coverage.
All data found within this report is based on a survey commissioned by AffordableHealthInsurance.com and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,350 Americans were surveyed. All respondents answered a screener question at the start of the survey to confirm that they were married during the pandemic, and were filtered using Pollfish’s age demographics to ensure they were age 18 and up. The survey ran between August 5, 2021 and August 6, 2021.