Munich Personal RePEc Archive

In Sickness and in Health: The Influence of State and Federal Health Insurance Coverage Mandates on Marriage of Young Adults in the USA

Barkowski, Scott and McLaughlin, Joanne Song (2018): In Sickness and in Health: The Influence of State and Federal Health Insurance Coverage Mandates on Marriage of Young Adults in the USA.

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Abstract

We study the effects of state and federal dependent health insurance mandates on marriage rates of young adults, ages 19 to 25. Motivated by low rates of coverage among this age group, state governments began mandating health insurers in the 1970s to allow adult children to stay on their parents’ insurance plans. These state level efforts successfully increased insurance coverage rates, but also came with unintended implications for the marriage decisions of young adults. Almost all state mandates explicitly prohibited marriage as a condition of eligibility, thereby directly discouraging marriage. Additionally, by making access to health insurance through parents easier, the mandates made access through spouses’ employers relatively less attractive. To the extent that young adults were altering their marriage plans to gain access through potential spouses, they no longer needed to do so under the mandates, thereby implicitly discouraging marriage. When the dependent coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted, it effectively ended the state-based marriage restrictions, thereby encouraging marriage among young adults previously eligible for state mandates. On the other hand, for those who were not eligible for state mandates, the ACA represented an attractive new path to obtain coverage, thereby discouraging marriage for these young adults, just as the state mandates had implicitly done previously for others. Thus, the separate efforts at the state and federal level to address low coverage rates for young adults ended up interacting and influencing incentives for marriage in opposite directions. We study these interaction effects on marriage empirically using a new dataset we compiled on state-level dependent coverage mandates. Consistent with theoretical arguments, we find that, before the implementation of the ACA, state mandates lowered marriage rates by about 2 percentage points, but this pattern reversed upon the passage of the ACA. We also find that state mandates increased the probability of out-of-wedlock births among state-mandate-eligible women as compared to ineligible ones, but the ACA reversed this trend as well. Our study provides an important example where fundamental understanding of the effects of the ACA dependent coverage mandate can only be had with full consideration of the pre-existing state laws.

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