Obamacare Rules Leave Some Domestic Violence Victims Without Escape

WASHINGTON -- When Obamacare was passed in 2010, advocacy groups hailed the law for its provisions aimed at domestic violence prevention, including the requirement that all new health plans must cover domestic violence screening and counseling.

Before the sweeping healthcare law passed, there were efforts in Congress to prohibit insurance companies from being able to block coverage for an individual who had been physically beaten by a spouse. It was allowed as a pre-existing condition in a handful of states, and a handful of insurance companies in the 1990s listed being the victim of domestic violence as a disqualifying condition for life and health insurance policies.

"If you’re a victim of domestic violence, even that’s seen as a pre-existing condition," Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said in September, hailing Obamacare's implementation. "Women had to pay 50 percent more for health care because of gender rating. All of that is over."

However, Obamacare includes a powerful disincentive for victims trying to leave abusive marriages.

Under current enrollment policies, victims who have left abusive relationships, even if they file taxes separately from a spouse, still are judged on total household income of the marriage. So if a victim flees and is trying to obtain health insurance coverage, she or he may actually be scraping by on a substantially smaller income yet not qualify for subsidies -- and be mandated to buy a costly policy.

And a high healthcare premium would exacerbate what is already a trepidatious financial situation, with many victims coming from a marriage where the abusive spouse controlled the money and many of the abused eventually returning to the marriage because of an inability to financially support oneself and any children.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) wrote Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner on Friday after it was brought to his attention "that some of these victims are facing unique barriers to qualifying for lower monthly premium payments as they search for and purchase health care coverage."

"I urge you to act together to swiftly implement policies allowing victims of domestic abuse to access the level of tax credits they deserve even if there are obstacles to their ability to file joint tax returns."

The senator noted how it's "not uncommon" for domestic violence victims to file taxes separately "to protect themselves from the ongoing threat of violent abuse."

"However, as they search for health coverage, if they are still required to report usually higher joint income then they are likely to qualify for much lower tax credits, if they qualify at all," Begich continued.