Divorce and health coverage: Ex-wives go without

By Vanessa De La Rosa


As a married woman, the thought of divorce is unsettling for obvious reasons: the ensuing sense of failure, divorce attorney fees and possible loss of assets, just to name a few. But as a new University of Michigan study has found, not only can divorce deplete a woman’s mental, physical and financial wellbeing, it can also disrupt her health insurance coverage for two years or longer.

Each year, more than one million American couples untie the knot, and the study shows that approximately 65,000 women are left sans health coverage post-divorce. Usually the loss of health benefits occurs because women no longer qualify as dependents under their ex-husbands’ policies or because they cannot afford to pay for their own employer-sponsored coverage after the financial burden of divorce proceedings.

Should I, heaven forbid, ever have to traverse down that dark path, I would expect my level of income would only do me good in terms of affording insurance; after all, a moderate income trumps a low income any day, right? Well, according to the study’s lead authors, Bridget Lavelle and Pamela Smock, expenses and losses from divorce often inhibit women of all income classes from even being able to make ends meet, let alone afford health coverage; however, lower-income divorced women might actually find coverage sooner. Lavelle and Smock explain why:
    “Women in moderate-income families face the greatest loss of insurance coverage. They are more likely than higher-income women to lose private coverage and they have less access than lower-income women to public safety-net insurance programs.”
The study determines that full-time employment and education can protect divorced women against facing too long of a stint without health insurance, but not all employers provide sufficient coverage.

The researchers go on to ponder how effective the Affordable Care Act could be at reducing the posed issue:
    “The current health care and insurance system in the U.S. is inadequate for a population in which multiple marital and job changes over the life course are not uncommon. It remains to be seen how effective the Affordable Care Act will be in remedying the problem of insurance loss after divorce, but the law has provisions that may help substantially.”
The financial benefits of marriage inevitably dissipate with divorce, and it takes a while for each party to adjust to the change. When is divorce, even if welcomed, ever easy on the wallet? Lack of health coverage for is never a good thing for anyone, especially one who may be financially and emotionally unstable due to a recent divorce, but — at least according to this particular study — it seems moderate-income women are the ones who suffer the most.