How Far Would You Go to Get Health Insurance?

by Thursday Bram · 9 comments

Health insurance is a big deal. People pay a fortune to make sure that they keep coverage, if only because they expect to pay several fortunes for health care without insurance. And if you have even a hangnail that could be considered a pre-existing condition, the nightmare of losing your health insurance and being unable to get it back can haunt you.

But paying for COBRA or purchasing private insurance isn’t the only approach that some people take. A marriage license with the right name on it could be the only thing standing between you and health insurance. Would you get married just to make sure you can go to the doctor when you need to?

Just How Far Will You Go?


I joke a lot about how I married my husband for his health insurance. We’d been together for quite a while and hadn’t set a date. I certainly didn’t have health insurance — freelance writers aren’t exactly known for having fantastic health care packages. My husband, on the other hand, has very nice health insurance.

In truth, we didn’t get hitched just because I needed health insurance. But we did do it a little sooner than we might have otherwise.

I can think of plenty of similar stories where someone made a pretty personal choice just because of health insurance. A friend of a friend has remained married to his wife for seventeen years after he first contemplated divorce because she would lose her health insurance and she has a debilitating condition that would make it impossible for her to get insurance on her own that would cover her needs or work enough to get a good health insurance package. They haven’t even lived in the same state for more than fifteen years, but health insurance is the tie that binds.

Some Decisions Are a Little Less Extreme

Not all health insurance decisions come down to something so life-changing as a wedding or a divorce. But looking for a job based on the health insurance it offers has become very common. There are plenty of people who willingly take a job below their expectations because it can provide their family with health insurance. In the current economic situation, it’s tough enough to find a job with health insurance, let alone one that matches your other expectations.

There are also plenty of families where one spouse takes a job only to provide health insurance. It’s a common situation in farming communities: one family member will take a job with health insurance, even if it means hours commuting, because even a successful farm doesn’t offer the funds to provide health insurance for the whole family. The same holds true for many entrepreneurs — one partner gets to pursue his or her dream, while the other makes sure that there is health insurance.

Such approaches seem a little easier, but I think that they can have far more of an impact on a person’s life. Getting married can be a matter of going to a courthouse with a friend and filling out some forms. But going to a job that you hate, day after day, can drain you.

The Personal Decision

Honestly, I’m not sure how far I would ultimately go just to keep my health insurance. I have a personal preference of just finding enough money to pay for a policy if things come down to it — but that certainly can sound a lot easier than it is.

My family didn’t usually have health insurance when I was growing up. I know that I don’t want to go back to a situation where a simple doctor’s visit was absolutely stressful.

Some of my family members are headed in that direction right now, though, due to a layoff. We’ve been going through all the different options that we can think of, down to transferring custody of a couple of minors to family members with health insurance. The expense of COBRA payments are out of reach in a family where the breadwinner suddenly lost the income, although a few people have offered to lend a portion of the necessary funds.

It’s a tough situation to be in. There’s no way to say, “this is too far to go for health insurance” if your family’s health is in question. What would you do in this case?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Banjo Steve June 1, 2011 at 6:04 am

Why not? Another blog investigated how some marry to get college scholarships. In the times before the romanticization of marriage, men unabashedly married women to get heirs and arm-candy, while women married for money, children, and/or protection. And remember politically arranged marriages throughout history?And it still happens, though it is not celebrated/publicized as much.

Marriage is a contract. Hence the land of pre-nups and such. A benign, thoughtful marriage between consenting adults for financial reasons is nothing to condemn. Sometimes respect in a marriage trumps the illusion of love.

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Ginger June 1, 2011 at 7:51 am

I have pre-existing conditions and must have health insurance. My DH and I got married earlier because of it. The cost for health insurance/health care is beyond what we can afford with the employer’s contribution. Though I plan to freelance on the side both my DH and I know we will look for jobs with health insurance just in case one of us cannot find it. COBRA for me, when I aged out of my mother’s plan was over $500/month and I could not even qualify for a high deductible plan otherwise. People need to include COBRA in their EF because it is so vital.

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No Debt MBA June 1, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I don’t know about getting married, but I would certainly pay COBRA rates or more to avoid a gap in coverage even without a preexisting condition. Getting good insurance coverage again as an individual can be brutal with a gap in coverage.

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Mario June 1, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Getting married is definitely a boost is a lot areas. But it also makes things cost more. It definitely has its benefits

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Martin June 2, 2011 at 7:59 am

Rather than do something because of health coverage, it is better to try and live as healthy as possible so you can buy insurance in the open market, if necessary. I do feel differently when a person has some genetic decease, cancer, etc. and know of several people in my life in that situation, who were stuck in a job/marriage until the end. Now that I have been retired for a little over one year, I found it much cheaper to buy an individual HSA family plan coverage on the open market, rather than pay for the Cobra coverage, which would expire eventually anyway.

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Bart Lipscomb November 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Great article. There are a lot of hidden ways to get on a group plan without having to make drastic changes. Think about some groups you may already be a part of that could potentially give you access to group coverage. For example, did you know a lot of school districts offer group coverage for children who need insurance?

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Ginger January 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm

I was 24 when I was unable to get health insurance. I did nothing to cause my problems, other than live my normal life. Which included working and going to school. The doctors could not figure out how I messed the muscles in my neck up, but were able to find great treatments. Those treatments, though, made me ineligible for health insurance on the open market. Prior to the ACA, ANYTHING could get you unable to get insurance, at any price.

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