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A Better Partnership
September 18, 2009

COA Opinion: Couples who married before statute's effective date can still benefit from its abatement of repayment obligations for Medicaid-covered pregnancies

If an unwed couple has a baby and Medicaid pays the confinement and pregnancy expenses, then the expenses may be apportioned to the father of the child (but not the mother). MCL ' 722.712(3). But if the father later marries the mother, the father's repayment obligation is abated (subject to reinstatement for good cause, including divorce). MCL ' 722.712(4) & (5). In Booker v. Shannon, No. 284937 (published Sept. 17, 2009), the Court of Appeals addressed whether these provisions, which took effect October 1, 2004, applied to a marriage that occurred in 1997. Based on the plain language of the statute and on policy considerations of encouraging unwed parents to marry and remain married, the Court held that the abatement provision applies to marriages that occurred before the provision's effective date, and therefore reversed the circuit court.

The prosecuting attorney argued that the phrase "if the father marries the mother" in ' 712.712 means, because it is in the future tense, that the marriage must occur after the effective date of the statute. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument for three reasons. First, while the language is in the future tense, it says "if the father marries the mother," not "if the father marries the mother after the effective date of this act," and ' 722.712(5) expressly treats orders for payment that occur before the effective date the same as those occurring after the effective date. Second, the provisions encourage parents not just to marry but to remain married, and an interpretation abating payments only for marriages that occur after the effective date could induce some married couples to get a divorce and remarry so that the father could fall within the abatement provision. And third, a father should not be penalized for marrying the mother of his own accord, even without the incentive of having his payment obligation abated. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court and remanded for entry of an order abating the unpaid confinement and pregnancy expenses.

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