Marriage, in Sickness and for Health Insurance

More Americans are tying the knot in order to share a healthcare plan, a new poll shows.

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After 12 years of unwedded bliss, two friends of mine recently got married. The reason: Her job offers health insurance benefits to married couples but not unhitched cohabiting ones. Now it turns out these two may have been at the leading edge of a trend. According to a new poll, 7 percent of respondents said they or someone they lived with decided to get married in the last year in order either to have access to health insurance benefits or to give their new spouse access.

And they say romance is dead. At a time when the typical family health plan costs upwards of $12,000 a year, sharing a group policy number is more than a token way to say "I love you." It's a hefty commitment, giving new meaning to "in sickness and in health."

The Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported other ways in which healthcare is emerging as an influential economic factor in many people's lives. Twenty-eight percent of middle-income families earning between $30,000 and $75,000 reported having a serious problem paying for healthcare because of recent changes in the economy. Nearly a quarter said that within the past year they or someone they lived with had either taken a new job or stayed with their current one because of better health benefits.

Healthcare concerns ranked near the top of people's economic woes. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said paying for healthcare or health insurance was a "serious problem." That's more than the proportion reporting serious problems paying their mortgage (19 percent) or credit card or other personal debt (18 percent) or affording food (18 percent). (Paying for gas was the top problem, reported by 44 percent, followed by getting a well-paying job or pay raise, at 29 percent.)

"We tend to treat healthcare and the economy as separate issues," says Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "This poll shows that paying for healthcare really is emerging as one of the public's top economic problems."

Kaiser also asked respondents their views about healthcare and the 2008 presidential election. As it had in earlier rounds, healthcare remains a top concern in the April survey, ranking third—behind the economy and the war in Iraq—among voters of all political affiliations as the issue they'd most like the candidates to address. The telephone survey of 2,003 adults was conducted between April 3 and 13. A few weeks ago, I wrote this thorough examination of the candidates' healthcare reform proposals.