Will Divorce Mean Losing Your Health Insurance Coverage?

Your spouse provided health insurance benefits in the form of a employer-sponsored family plan. Now that you are getting a divorce, however, you will no longer be eligible and will need to pay for your own coverage — or go uninsured.

Does this describe your situation? According to a new study from the University of Michigan, approximately 115,000 women lose their private health insurance every year in the wake of divorce — a number that represents approximately 17 percent of all women who divorce in the U.S. each year. This loss is not temporary: women’s overall rates of health insurance coverage remain depressed for more than two years after divorce.

In the study, researchers analyzed nationally representative data on women ages 26-64, divorced at some point between 1996 and 2007. It’s important to note that men’s loss of insurance coverage was not addressed in this study, though many men face similar circumstances.

As a university press release outlines, besides the numbers, highlights of the researchers’ other key findings include:

– Many women have trouble maintaining private insurance coverage because they have difficulty paying premiums for other sources of private insurance. And despite the financial hardship divorced women often experience, many do not qualify for Medicaid or other public insurance.

– Women who have their own employer-based coverage are less likely than other women to lose coverage (11 percent versus 17 percent), but they are not completely immune from loss of coverage because financial losses related to the divorce may reduce their ability to meet ordinary expenses, including their share of employee-sponsored health insurance.

Are you concerned about losing your health insurance due to divorce? Depending on the terms of your spouse’s insurance coverage (every private health insurance plan contains rules on how separation and divorce affects eligibility), it may be possible to still qualify on the plan, as long as you are willing to negotiate.

For couples attempting to reach a divorce settlement through private mediation, through careful give and take, it may be possible to work out a compromise that allows for health coverage to continue. Likewise, if you are willing to make certain concessions, it may also be possible to have your spouse agree to pay part of your premium on a new insurance plan, or else negotiate your way to a higher cash settlement in order to have the financial resources to deal with health care costs. Even if you don’t use mediation, obtaining coverage under a COBRA arrangement or having your divorce lawyer argue for paid health premiums as part of your settlement may be possible.

Are any of these solutions perfect? Unfortunately, health care in the United States remains one of the most expensive costs affecting personal and household budgets. Other lower cost options for health care coverage include plans offered through your employer, applying for Medicaid and Medicare, insurance plans offered through your chamber of commerce, health care plans offered through professional unions or guilds your may belong to, insurance offered to full-time students if you go back to school, and short-term health insurance, a sort of stop gap way to temporarily stay insured until you find full-time work with benefits.