I Got Married For Health Insurance
And now, you might too.
Supported by Oscar
Wait, Joe. Do you want to get married?
Conversation fell off a cliff as the six other eyes in the room turned to me. Joe had his legs splayed over the butterfly chair; my two roommates were curled on the futon and couch, cozy as kittens.
The question seemed to be apropos of nothing. Marriage was definitely not a question Joe and I had broached in the eight months we'd been hanging out. But I'd been spacing, my mind chewing on a bothersome problem, when it hit me. The answer was right there in front of me. Isn't it always?
Joe could be my ticket to freedom. The moment the thought crossed my synapses it fell right out of my mouth, for better or worse, before I had time to go all Hamlet.
I kept saying I wanted to quit my job; it was time to listen to myself. Since they'd fired the editor I loved and replaced him with one I, well, didn't, I'd been drinking too much. I felt sodden. I was sneaking in and out of the office via the freight elevator, using my bike as an excuse to avoid the front of the office. Maybe I could try my hand at freelancing. Become a park ranger? At 25, my world seemed full of possibilities, if only I could secure some health insurance. Ay, there's the rub.
I had played Russian roulette in the past, but something told me I couldn't risk going un-covered, not this time of year. The ultimate Frisbee season was about to get underway. I'd be stuffing my cleats in my backpack every weekend from spring to fall, sleeping at cheap hotels and teammates' parents' houses, running 'til my toenails turned purple and fell off. At the moment, ultimate felt like the most stable thing in my life.
This was spring of 2008, before Obamacare: For decent health insurance, you needed to go through your employer. Or … your spouse. I didn't want an employer. Gulp.
The thought of getting married made my temperature rise: the dress, having to get both our dysfunctional families – hard enough to deal with one at a time – together? And that was just the wedding day. My mantra at the time was "stay liquid," and becoming "Mrs." didn't jibe.
But there was Joe! We'd been together since last summer, when I'd drafted him blind onto my ultimate summer league team. I liked the way he smelled: somehow, although he doesn't eat beef or pork, his lips exude a eau-de-salami. And at the moment, he happened to have a super corporate job with a company owned by Universal, making T-shirts for the likes of Beyonce and Justin Bieber and overseeing an army of roadies. He was pulling in the six figure salary that tends to accompany such disconnected endeavors, and yes, the top-shelf insurance plan.
Another thing about Joe: he is not a big fan of being the center of attention, and here he was, fielding a marriage proposal in a very small living room, six eyes now on him.
He nodded his unhurried stoner nod, like I'd just asked if he wanted to hit this joint.
"Yeah," he said.
The night the Donald Trump became our President, I was watching the returns at a bar that was populated by his supporters. When Florida went red, the fakest-blondest woman declared, gleefully, "There are gonna be a lot of babies born nine months from now."
Maybe so, for more than one reason. Getting married for health insurance might be coming back into vogue.
While President Trump won't be able to do the full repeal of Obamacare that he's been talking up, he can gut it: Repeal the individual mandate, repeal Medicaid expansions, and repeal subsidies for buying health insurance through the exchanges.
"If they do all of those things, there will be a lot of people who won't be able to afford health insurance," says Michael Sparer, chair of Health Policy and Management at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health.
Some of the 22 million Americans insured through Obamacare would remain insured without it. Folks who can afford to will buy insurance on their own, and some states might expand Medicaid. But many millions of Americans would fall back into that scary spot where you live with your fingers crossed.
"It's a lot of people," Sparer says. "We've been moving in the other direction. For the first time in history, fewer than 10 percent of Americans are uninsured right now. That's a remarkable achievement. We could see in the beginning of a Trump presidency a reversal, moving back into the double digits."
April Fool's Day seemed like a solid choice of wedding date. A week beforehand, we went down to City Hall to pay our $60 and get our marriage license. This was before City Hall turned into Vegas lite, back in the days of its honest drop ceiling and terrible lighting.
The form asked whether either of us wanted to take the other's name. Rock-paper-scissor? Joe Tucker sounded like a frat boy. Becca Gara made me want to call the whole thing off. We'd each keep our own name.
We asked my roommate to be our witness, swearing her to secrecy. She leaked it, of course. On the weekday morning of April 1, we took the subway down to City Hall and found four college friends with a bouquet, a bag of rice, even matching outfits (jeans and Muse t-shirts, samples courtesy of Joe) and a boom box playing my song. Not our song , my song: a Hoagy Carmichael joint from 1944 called How Little We Know.
Maybe it happens this way. Maybe we really belong together. But after all, how little we know.
Maybe it's just for a day. Love is as changeable as the weather and after all, how little we know.
Given the marriage domino effect I'd witnessed in my parents' generation, this song made me feel less phony about standing in front of Josephine the court clerk and promising something so brazen. How the hell did I know? Forget death, I didn't know whether we'd make it till the end of the year.
The song, in its embrace of the unknowable, felt sexy. Getting married, in a place you passed through a metal detector to get to, with no relatives, no moms, felt just the right amount of naughty.
Rainy wedding days are supposed to be good luck, yes? After City Hall, Joe and I drove my Prius north, through a gray spring drizzle to a BYOB Greek restaurant, stopping to pick up a bottle of champagne. As we were about to get back on the highway, our car skidded off the wet entrance ramp in what felt like slow motion, hitting one guard rail, then fishtailing to smack the other. We threw the half-finished champagne into the bushes, in case the cops came. But they didn't! Glory, glory.
Though it was technically totaled, our trusty little car managed to start up, and we limped the rest of the way to Joe's house in Rockland. The whole ordeal called for a nap. When we woke up, we strapped our kayaks onto the roof of Joe's Jeep, drove to a lake in Harriman State Park, where we paddled and skinny-dipped, then booked it back into the city to meet friends for our "reception" at Chipotle, where Joe happened to have won a meal for 10 when they pulled his business card out of the fishbowl three weeks earlier.
It was delightfully chaotic, but getting married would turn out to be the most pragmatic decision I ever made. Just months after our janky little wedding, at an ultimate tournament in Seattle, an opponent tackled me from behind, tearing my ACL and triggering a cascade of crappiness: a post-surgical staph infection, a life-threatening reaction to an antibiotic. I would run up a $100,000 bill on three surgeries followed by six months of rehab, all, mercifully, on Joe's excellent insurance.
Flash forward eight years. The plastic bride and groom from the top of our cake, recently rediscovered, sits on our kitchen window frame. As I search for a picture from our wedding day for this story, our four-year-old daughter jumps into my lap, then slips back off and wanders away. No puffy white dress in the photo? Not interested.
I wonder, writing this, if our two daughters would exist if we'd had Obamacare in 2008. I was so volatile back then. Silly fights would send me wandering out into the night, determined never to return. Would Joe and I have weathered the rough patches, if not for the additional tether of our joint health insurance—not to mention the awkwardness of actually having to get a divorce? Probably. Not definitely. I'd put our odds around Hillary Clinton's in the week before the election.
It wasn't just Joe's health insurance that I needed. I needed Joe, too, it turned out. More than one person who knew me then has commented, Wow, your life has gotten way better! I guess I was a little out of control. The temper remains a work in progress, but the marriage is going strong. We're even considering having some sort of shindig for our 10-year. It feels kind of weird at this point that our dads have still never met.
Now that the Affordable Care Act may only have a year or so to live, I'm not advising anyone to get married for health insurance. That would be crazy! Right? All I'm saying is if you were thinking about it—if you're already dating this person, and this person seems like a good catch and happens to have strong insurance, and you're currently on Obamacare? You'd be wise to do it sooner rather than later, like by the end of 2017.
Sparer also has a piece of advice: if you are eligible for Obamacare, sign up. It's open enrollment right now, and it's assured at least through 2017. That way you've at least got some short-term protection.
Or how about popping the question? "There you go," says a skeptical Sparer. "That one I'll let you suggest."