Obamacare makes a change.
Survivors of domestic violence who are living separately from an abusive spouse will now be able to claim subsidies for health insurance, thanks to a rewrite in federal tax rules.
The decision was announced by Treasury Department officials Wednesday, and is an attempt to correct an initial controversy addressed by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The 2010 Affordable Care Act created subsidies for people buying coverage through federal and state insurance exchanges. However, the law states that married people may only get such help if they file joint taxes. Married people who file their taxes separately are left out, including those whose spouses are divorcing them, have abandoned them, or are in prison. For women trying to escape a volatile marriage, this is a dead end on the road to better healthcare.
Domestic violence prevention advocates argue that the policy ends up harming victims of abuse the most because the violence is more concentrated in low-income housing, and many victims are financially dependent on their abusers and less likely to be able to extract themselves from the relationship in the first place. According to the Treasury Department,
“For victims of domestic abuse, contacting a spouse for purposes of filing a joint return may pose a risk of injury or trauma or, if the spouse is subject to a restraining order, may be legally prohibited.”
The deadline for choosing health plans on the new insurance marketplace is Monday. With time running out, Treasury officials are forgoing formalities and letting battered spouses take advantage even though the government has not yet completed a new regulation. Yet while lawmakers are celebrating, the Treasury acknowledges that there are still kinks to be worked out, specifically in terms of deadlines.
According to administration officials, the people benefiting from this rule change will be able to ask for extra time to enroll for coverage, in case they cannot finish signing up by Monday. This will be put in place using an honor system signifying that they qualify for what is known as a “special enrollment period”.