'Grey's Anatomy' Pushes Marriage for Health Insurance Scheme

Jeanne Sager
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Scott Foley Grey's AnatomyFinally! It's been three episodes since Grey's Anatomy started teasing us with a "getting married for the health insurance" story line, and it finally came to a head last night.

It's hard not to notice Dr. Teddy Altman (Kim Raver) has been floundering in the love pit that is Seattle Grace/Mercy West. She can never get the guy, or at least get a guy to stick. So it was about time the writers threw her a bone, and what a tasty bone she got.

Scott Foley! Yum. Er, rather Henry, a patient who's plagued with constantly growing tumors that prompt a constant call for surgery. His condition continues to max him out on health insurance, and he takes so many sick days he can't really build up any savings. Before the holiday break, he was trying to propose to his girlfriend to get on her insurance. She flaked, and Altman offered to take his case to the hospital to get him pro bono care.

Naturally, the hospital said no. Which left the cardio doc with a big heart with no choice. Last week we got a quickie wedding between the two. Yay, Henry got his health insurance! But then nothing happened. Altman ran off into surgery, Henry sat at a bar waiting for his bride. We all felt gypped.

But last night's episode didn't disappoint with its nuance. The Chief accused Altman of insurance fraud -- although Little Grey is happy to point out it's not fraud per se, just frowned upon by the medical community (stick that in your hats for future romance), and he doesn't let up on her all night.  Unfortunately in the teeming sin pit that is Seattle Grace/Mercy West, Chief Webber makes the grand mistake of telling Altman that her relationship with a patient (who, it should be noted, was never actually her patient -- this is not a repeat of the Denny Duquette situation) is "inappropriate." Did you just snort too? Altman is ready with the snappy comeback -- a la, Chief, get a grip, every relationship here is inappropriate.

That isn't to say the episode left the moral repercussions of the marrying for health insurance alone. In a country where 43.6 million people live without health insurance (the latest statistics from the CDC), so-called "insurance card marriages" really happen. Back in 2008, a survey found 7 percent of Americans admitted they or someone in their household had married for the insurance. In light of the recession, job losses, and the resulting loss of benefits, it's not hard to imagine there are more Americans at the very least debating the process.

Having once lived without health insurance and been forced to fight with insurance companies over getting coverage when I had a lump in my breast (non-cancerous, but I didn't know that at the time), I can't say I blame them. We tend to take it for granted when we're healthy and when we have it, but life without health insurance is scary. If all it takes is a piece of paper -- and you see how lightly so many people take that paper -- it's hard to fault people for caring.

But if you're considering it, you need to call up last night's episode as a warning. Because when Henry gets wheeled into surgery, and the docs find more problems than they expected, they need to talk to his next of kin. Any guesses on who that is?

Teddy obviously has no idea what Henry's home life is like, whether he can handle it if the doctors cut out half his pancreas -- potentially making him an insulin-dependent diabetic -- prompting the Chief to rant, "You signed a marriage license and you didn't ask him the most basic questions on how he wanted to live or die?"

If you're marrying for health insurance, there's a lot more to it than the paper. There's becoming, officially, that person's next of kin. There's being faced with making decisions for them in the case that they end up on an operating table (even if they're healthy now, think about it -- ever heard of car accidents?). That's just what was touched on last night -- consider too the financial implications if their medical bills climb too high (remember, you're now married, your finances are linked) or the risk of taking on their other bills simply by being married to them. 

None of that is going to play out onscreen -- already there's a lovey dovey relationship blossoming for Henry and Teddy (come on, it's Grey's, what else did you expect) -- but if you walked into the show last night thinking marriage for health insurance didn't sound like a bad deal, here's hoping it got the wheels spinning on the implications. Do you think it's OK to do?

 

Image via ABC

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