"I Married for Health Insurance"

Friends with (Legal) Benefits

Of course not everyone who gets hitched for health coverage is in the work force.

"I married to obtain health insurance in retirement," said a 63-year-old Massachusetts woman who asked to remain anonymous.

Though the former hospital worker's relationship with her "best friend," a retired state corrections officer, is strictly platonic, the two tied the knot three years ago so she could get on his generous employer-funded health policy.

"I could get health insurance through my employer. However, almost my entire monthly retirement check would be used to pay the premium," she said.

Considering that the duo had already purchased a home on Cape Cod and taken up residence there together, "it was a natural progression to get married and put me on his policy."

May we all be so lucky to have such friends with benefits in our golden years.

But for some in search of a decent health plan, those marital ties can bind a bit too tightly.

Earlier this year, a 50-something Indiana couple who'd been married 11 years got divorced so that the recently laid off, uninsured husband would be eligible for Medicaid, which he needed to help pay for $80,000 worth of cancer treatments (because of his wife's $38,000 annual salary, he didn't qualify for a government-subsidized health plan). So despite being happy in their marriage, the pair dissolved their union and took up separate residences in the name of affordable health care.

On the opposite side of the connubial coin, some couples who want to marry can't -- for the very reason the Indiana husband and wife divorced.

"I have not gotten married because of health care," said a 39-year-old Web designer from Vancouver, Wash., who didn't want to give her name. "I have had my daughter on Washington state health care since she was born. If I were to get married to the guy that I have been with for the past 10 years, then our combined income would disqualify my daughter for her coverage."

Unfortunately, neither this conscientious mom nor her live-in beau, both of whom are self-employed (he works as a courier), can afford insurance of their own.

Alternatives to Saying 'I Do'

Even though the Society for Human Resource Management reported in June that 97 percent of U.S. employers offer their employees some form of health coverage, obviously not all perks and plans are created equal. Get laid off, retire or work as a temp, intern, part-timer, freelancer, do-gooder or minimum wager and you could find yourself up the health care creek without a paddle.

Sure, there's Cobra -- the 18 months of health coverage you often receive through an employer upon leaving the company -- to tide you over, but Cobra can be prohibitively costly.

Rather than rush to the altar, consider these other ways of obtaining health care coverage first:

State programs. The sites AHIRC.org and HealthInsuranceInfo.net list just about every individual, group and government-subsidized plan available in each of the 50 states.

Professional associations. If self-employed, see if your chamber of commerce or favorite industry association offers affordable health coverage; many do. Also see the Freelancers Union, which offers coverage in 31 states.

eHealthInsurance.com. The Web site eHealthInsurance.com lets you comparison shop among multiple insurance companies and health plans.

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