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With this ring, I get out of a big medical bill

Submitted by on Monday, 19 January 2009 One Comment

Gary Johnson and Rebecca Witt are making it, but barely, on his $8-an-hour job while she uses grants to pay for college in between raising three children.

But because they aren’t married, the state of Michigan says Johnson has to reimburse Medicaid $3,800 for the birth of their first child.

They could make that payment go away by saying “I do,” but they don’t want to do that. They could handle it when the payment was $50 a month, but now the state wants $500.

A $500 payment? Bank of America officials are jealous; it’d be their wildest fantasy to be able to gouge credit-card holders with that ridiculous of a payment on that size of debt .

“We have no problem paying the money back, but taking 500 dollars a month from us is excessive and it takes away from the very child that is supposed to be ‘supported.’ ” Witt wrote on the Flint (Michigan) Journal Web site the day an article about their situation drew a firestorm of comments, mostly negative.

A local caseworker, who sees the requirement as an incentive to maintain the “sanctity of marriage,” says officials can work out payment plans – which makes me wonder why they haven’t in this case – but state law mandates hospital costs get collected unless a couple is married.

The sanctity of what? To me, it sounds like the sanctity of a feudal system in which women were property, to be handed off for the sum of a dowry. Except in this case, the government’s offering a bribe instead of cattle and land.

I’m not even sure what “sanctity of marriage” means, except I’m pretty positive it involves straight folks only. I had this vague idea that “sanctity of marriage” has to do with notions such as love, honor and cherish, not get hitched to get out of the bill.

And it’s an incentive? Sure it is, along the same lines of telling me that the beatings will end if I’d just confess to the Lindbergh kidnapping.

Michigan’s not the only state with such a law. Wisconsin has had one for years, and at first glance it looks to be a raging success: millions of dollars coming back to the state.

But those millions of dollars are coming out of the pockets of people who often can’t afford the loss.

“Frequently the fathers associated with the mothers — whether or not they live together — are struggling financially, and the addition of this debt to the costs of raising a child, can be unmanageable,” the Center for Family Policy and Practice wrote five years ago.

In other words, the laws catch men who are actually trying in the same net that snares the deadbeats. That study was five years ago. Heaven knows how many dads are being pushed over the edge in this economy.

And it’s always men. Federal law prohibits states from collecting the costs from mothers, since they’re the ones receiving care. A bill by Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and some guy from Illinois would have prohibited states from collecting from men as well. Here’s hoping President Barack Obama remembers the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2007 once he’s in the White House.

I have no problem with laws that go after men who don’t support their children, and perhaps Michigan taxpayers would be better served if their public servants honed in on deadbeat dads.

But that’s not Johnson.

He and Witt live together, and he supports his family – plus Witt’s child from a previous relationship – as best he can. They plan to marry, but when the time is right and not just because the state offers a bribe.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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One Comment »

  • Gwynne said:

    My [ex] Husband (he and I are still very close) is in a similar situation with his girlfriend.

    They have a 10-month-old son together. For the duration of her pregnancy, she was on medicaid. Nothing is legally demanded of the father during the pregnancy.

    But as soon as the baby as born, the named/legal father is obligated to pay child support if the mother is to remain on any sort of assistance. If she wants medicaid for the baby, he has to pay child support, taken directly out of his check, and that money goes to the state, not to the mother. And it doesn’t matter if they are living together.

    My [ex] Husband added their son to his work medical insurance, at a cost of $350 a month, but his girlfriend now has no medical coverage because she refuses to make him pay child support when they are living together!