Each year, 115,000 recently divorced women lose their health insurance, according to a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, “Divorce and Women’s Risk of Health Care Loss.” Of those 115,000 women, 65,000 lose their insurance entirely.
For women who have received health insurance benefits through their husband’s employment, this is a real problem. The law only mandates that your husband maintain your insurance coverage up until the entry of the final divorce decree. It’s not that the law is unsympathetic to your plight, it’s just that no insurance company will continue to provide coverage for an un-related person (and, once the marriage relationship terminates, you and your ex-husband become legal strangers). That’s the way insurance works, but it’s little comfort to the women who are left uncovered after divorce.
It’s a big problem for the lower and middle classes, because once women lose their husband’s coverage, many times they either don’t qualify to receive it through their own employer (or don’t work because of their child-rearing responsibilities), make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, and can’t afford COBRA or their own insurance policy.
It’s a problem to which, at least at this point, the law doesn’t provide a solution. More and more often, particularly with older couples, we see people deciding to stay together because the financial ramifications of divorce are just too severe. To risk losing health insurance is an incredibly scary thing these days, where just a routine doctor’s appointment can cost several hundreds of dollars for the uninsured. And if you’ve got to have something more invasive done, your tab can easily run into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. It’s expensive for the insured, and it can be financially crippling for the uninsured.
So, what can you do? Unfortunately, because the law doesn’t provide a solution to the problem at this point, you may have a difficult time seeking a solution in the court system. If you’re trying to negotiate a separation agreement and you know ahead of time that you may have trouble securing your own separate health insurance, you may ask for an increase in spousal support to help you afford to pay the costs of your own separate insurance policy. If you have to go to court, on the other hand, you can always ask the judge to award a slight increase to your spousal support award (or try to make an argument justifying an award for this specific purpose) in order to help you afford insurance. Of course, there can be no guarantees in the courtroom, but it’s certainly worth a shot.