Four years ago, Rebecca Witt and Gary Johnson became the parents of a little girl. The cost of the baby's birth were covered by Medicaid.
Since that time, the hospital has demanded that Johnson repay the $3,800 cost of the birth. At first the hospital demanded he pay it back at 500 dollars a month. Johnson, who makes 8 dollars an hour could not pay such a high bill and the monthly payment was eventually reduced to 50 a month, which is still a strain on a family budget.
But last week, the hospital notified Johnson that the monthly payment was going back up to $500, even though his income has not increased.
Enter the State of Michigan. Five years ago, state lawmakers amended the state's paternity act to waive birthing costs for a father -- if he married the child's mother. So, if Johnson marries Witt, the hospital will cease trying to collect the bill.
Excuse me? The hospital originally sought to reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of this birth. How on Earth does a marriage license change the fact that the birth was paid for by Medicaid? Does a marriage license suddenly make $3,800 magically re-appear in Medicaid coffers?
Witt and Johnson, though unmarried, have lived together all this time and Johnson supports the family. Whether or not the couple is legally married does not change their living arrangement nor their income in any way.
For once, this issue isn't about money. If it was, the state would seek payment regardless of marital status. Rather, it's all about the government imposing a particular religiously-based version of morality by meddling into the private relationships of citizens.
Indeed, Genesee County Friend of the Court Jack Battles sees it as incentive to maintain the "sanctity of marriage".
Sanctity of marriage? "Sanctity" is a religious notion and the presence or lack of "sanctity" in marriage isn't the function of the state. Rather, civil marriage is a legal classification which deals with the practical benefits that come with marriage. Whatever spiritual element that exists is an entirely private matter between those involved and whatever religious or ethical beliefs they hold.
It would seem instead that to hold couples hostage by causing them to marry under duress in order to save money does more to make a mockery of whatever "sanctity" that may exist in any particular marriage than living together in a common-law relationship could.
Rebecca Witt doesn't believe her marital status should be any of the state's business.
"I don't think anybody should tell me when to get married," she said.
"It is despicable that the state would wave medical bills like a shotgun in the face of a low-income (family)," said Nicky Grist, executive director of the Brooklyn, NY-based Alternatives to Marriage.
I agree. The handling of bills such as these should be based on ability to pay, not on marital status. Let them pay it back with a monthly payment geared toward their income level, even if it takes years to pay it off.
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