Medicaid as a Subsidy for Divorce


Can we have serious discussions about the incentives that public policy creates?  We have to, but I wonder if we can.

That was my thought upon reading a Newport Daily News article by Derek Gomes about a Portsmouth woman who’s caught up in the state’s UHIP debacle.  On that score, in particular, there can be no disagreement: If the state has set up a program and told people that they’re eligible, it must do its job.  But still… the details make one wonder about the underlying policy:

The divorced mother of four said her children are covered by their father’s insurance plan, but she does not know whether her health insurance is in effect.

Watson owns an Etsy shop that sells vintage clothes she acquires from browsing thrift shops and clothes sales across the region. Eligible for Medicaid, she filled out her application in August and was approved.

The article doesn’t provide additional details about the marriage or divorce, and the specifics of this person aren’t relevant enough for us to dig into for our purposes, here, but on its surface, it’s worth noting some realities.  Primary among them is that, had the family remained a team within marriage, Watson would be covered by the family’s health insurance.  In this case, it is the woman who’s left out of the mix, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.  The point is that two parents working together benefit each other.

To the extent that specific knowledge of her Medicaid eligibility contributed to the divorce (or just a general sense that government would have her “Life of Julia” back), public policy contributed to the outcome, removing incentive to work out problems within the marriage.  The same is true of Watson’s nominal occupation.  “Owning an Etsy shop,” unless I’m missing something, isn’t quite entrepreneurship.  The site‘s tag line, “Turn your passion into a business,” gives the impression of a slightly more-formalized form of selling things on eBay.  Some folks may make a living at it, but a competent financial advisor or life coach should probably encourage people to treat it as a hobby or, at best, a source of some additional spending money, maybe a means of paying down debt.

We’re deliberately not intent on determining the personal particulars of this one family, but it’s certainly possible that our state and nation’s “safety net” created space not just for the divorce, but also for the sense that an Etsy shop is sufficient occupation for the time being.  Perhaps knowledge that an Etsy shop would be enough also contributed to the divorce.  This critique could apply no matter whose behavior initiated the split, because the husband (in this case) might have assuaged his sense of responsibility knowing that taxpayers would pick up his slack.

This state of affairs benefits nobody, and particularly harms the children.  Again, we’ll put aside this particular family, and we’ll acknowledge that diligent parents (and involved grandparents and others) can mitigate some of the worst effects of divorce.  Nonetheless, in general, children do better in households in which their biological parents are married.

Maybe we should pause for some reconsideration if we’re setting up a welfare system that, when it’s working, serves as the de facto health insurance program for Etsy hobbyists who find themselves cut off from the benefits of their (relatively large) families because adults couldn’t find a way to maintain the most stable, healthy family structure.  This is the opposite of the incentives that government policy should be creating.

  • The Misfit

    “While I have written quite a bit that has been explicitly Catholic, I’ve tended to see my vocation as a more subtle evangelism,” he says. “In our place and time, many people are entirely unmoored from our Christian roots, and the secular culture has taught them to be suspicious of the religious presentation. Articulating the beautiful logic and practical wisdom of a worldview rooted in Catholic belief and tradition can be the force of revelation in such an environment.” Justin Katz

    Is this an example of your subtle evangelism? Do you know any thing about these people that you are using as your example? “Maybe we should pause for some reconsideration” Yes indeed. Not we. You. Maybe you should focus on your own family and not spread rumor and spiteful innuendo in the community

    • Justin Katz


      The woman volunteered her story for an article concerning public policy. She appears to be part of the Medicaid expansion, which is of manifest public interest, requiring us to consider whom it is we are funding and what the effects might be.

      I’ve been fielding critiques about my life from people like you (indeed, from you specifically) for about as long as I’ve been writing. Putting a real name to one’s story and opinion lends credibility, but it can’t be allowed to prevent our discussion of the details as divulged.

      I was very deliberate in this post to set the boundaries of what we know and what is speculation for the sake of considering broader points.

      • The Misfit

        Bullshit You are the town gossip

      • The Misfit

        You should be living in Salem. I post with a name that you don’t honor even though your site claims one can post that way. What do you honor? If not your own blog I am wondering right now what honor you can attach to your name

        • Justin Katz

          You’ve plenty of experience to know that I don’t respect anonymous commenting, particularly when its practitioners use it to cast personal aspersions. We allow it, yes, but as I’ve explained time and time again, it entitles one to a lower tier of latitude.

          And I think you’re overly dramatic. I used your first name only. You’re not quite a single-name celebrity.

          • The Misfit

            It took you that long to come up with that? So you don’t mind commenters that agree with you posting with any old name but if you don’t like the comment it is some how different? You don’t honor dissent?

          • The Misfit

            I am not overly dramatic. I want to be The Misfit. Do some reading of Catholic writers. Still does not explain your lapse of ethics. A simple apology would do.

          • Justin Katz

            There is no ethical obligation to respect the anonymity of commenters.

          • The Misfit

            OK New ground rules understood. Until they change An Autocratic prerogative.

          • Merle The Monster

            “These are your words in answer to “The Misfit”, one of your blog’s very infrequent commenters;
            “You’ve plenty of experience to know that I don’t respect anonymous commenting, particularly when its practitioners use it to cast personal aspersions. We allow it, yes, but as I’ve explained time and time again, it entitles one to a lower tier of latitude.”

            Then you wrote this “There is no ethical obligation to respect the anonymity of commenters”

            Interesting. What of commenter “Mike678″? Does “Mike678″ reside in a lower tier of latitude?. Does this commenter enjoy his anonymity on your site whereas others do not?

          • Justin Katz

            I’ve always given more latitude to people who put their real identities to what they write in this space, way back to when we started Anchor Rising in 2004. Mike678 is on the same tier as you and the Misfit, in that regard.

          • Mike678

            Ah, Merle. Proving once again you are small and vindictive. Justin can call me ‘Mike’ anytime he wants :)

    • Rhett Hardwick
    • Rhett Hardwick

      I don’t think there is any longer a rational argument to be made against the idea that “welfare” destroyed the black family. Unless you deny that past is prelude, Justin’s statements have intellectual pith.