For Thousands of Women, Costs Of Divorce Include Health Coverage

Alan McStravick for – Your Universe Online

Each year, more than a million couples go through the Big D, and I don´t mean Dallas. While that old country song refers to divorce, for 115,000 women each year it might as well stand for ℠disruption of insurance coverage,´ according to a new study out of the University of Michigan.

The study found this loss of coverage is not temporary either. Following a divorce, the overall rate of women´s health insurance coverage can remain depressed for more than two years.

“Given that approximately one million divorces occur each year in the U.S., and that many women get health coverage through their husbands, the impact is quite substantial,” according to Bridget Lavelle, a University of Michigan PhD candidate in public policy and sociology. Lavelle is also the lead author of this current study, which appears in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Lavelle conducted the study along with University of Michigan sociologist Pamela Smock. In it, they analyzed nationally representative longitudinal data from 1996 to 2007 on women between the ages of 26 and 64. Their research was supported by the University of Michigan’s National Poverty Center.

Their research has shown that approximately 65,000 divorced women will lose all health insurance coverage in the months following the divorce. This is because they no longer qualify as dependents under their husbands´ policies or they have difficulty paying the premiums for other sources of private insurance. Despite the financial hardship incurred from divorce, many of these women do not qualify for Medicaid or other public insurance options.

While women who have their own employer-based coverage are less likely than other women to lose coverage, they are not completely immune from this possibility. This is, in no small part, due to financial losses that are associated with the divorce. These losses severely inhibit their ability to meet their ordinary expenses, much less expenses related to their share of an employer-sponsored health insurance plan.

“Women in moderate-income families face the greatest loss of insurance coverage,” says Lavelle. “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.”

In the course of their research, Lavelle and Smock were able to determine that both full-time work and education could act as important buffers in protecting women from losing health insurance after divorce. However, as many women only work part-time or in jobs that simply don´t provide health insurance coverage, they found that the protective effects of employment are not universal.

“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,” Lavelle and Smock conclude. “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.”

Until the full implementation of the ACA, however, tens of thousands of women will lose their private health insurance. This detrimental blow is in addition to all of the other economic losses that typically accompany divorce.

The researchers, Lavelle and Smock, are also affiliated with the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) and the College of Literature, Arts and Sciences (LSA).