Survivors of domestic violence who are living separately from an abusive spouse will now be able to claim tax credits to help them afford an Obamacare plan, thanks to new rules being developed by the federal government. Before the change, these individuals were locked out of federal assistance for health care unless they filed joint taxes with their abuser.
Obamacare’s tax credits are intended to ensure that insurance plans on the new marketplaces are affordable for the Americans who may otherwise struggle to pay for health care. Early estimates suggest that up to 80 percent of the people signing up for Obamacare will qualify for some type of federal assistance, allowing some Americans to pay less than $100 per month in premiums for their health insurance.
But in order for married people to qualify, the health law requires them to file their taxes jointly. If they file separately, they lose out on the federal assistance altogether. Domestic violence prevention advocates argue that policy ends up harming victims of abuse — particularly because domestic violence is more concentrated among low-income households, and the victims who are financially dependent on their abusers are less likely to be able to extricate themselves from the relationship.
Last week, a group of 79 lawmakers, led by Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), urged the Treasury Department to change this policy and safeguard victims of domestic violence. It only took a few days for Treasury officials to agree.
“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. Your concerns are consistent to those expressed to us by numerous others in public comments and meetings,” the Treasury Department acknowledged on Wednesday in a written response to Slaughter and Doggett, explaining that the administration will work on finalizing a new rule on this issue.
The lawmakers are celebrating the decision. “Survivors of domestic violence should not have to depend on their abuser to gain access to affordable health care, and I’m glad the Treasury Department will ensure that no longer happens,” Slaughter said in a statement. “Treasury must quickly implement this rule so these survivors are able to access the health care they need and end the cycle of abuse without these unnecessary barriers.”
It’s particularly important to ensure that victims of domestic violence have access to health care. Worldwide, intimate partner violence is the leading cause of women’s non-fatal injuries. And abusive relationships tend to result in long-term health issues, too — domestic abuse survivors report higher than average rates of depression, diabetes, asthma, digestive disease, impaired brain tissue, and immune system dysfunction. But this population has historically struggled to get the care they need. Before the health reform law went into effect, being a victim of domestic abuse was considered a pre-existing condition in eight states and the District of Columbia.