Divorce Costs Thousands of Women Health Insurance Coverage

In the wake of divorce, about 115,000 women lose their private health insurance every year, according to a University of Michigan study, and they remain inadequately covered for more than two years after divorce.

“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,” said Bridget Lavelle, a doctoral candidate in public policy and sociology, and lead author of the study, which appeared in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Lavelle’s study analyzes nationally representative longitudinal data from 1996 through 2007 for women ages 26 to 64. She worked with University of Michigan sociologist Pamela Smock, and the study was supported by the University of Michigan National Poverty Center.

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

Full-time work and education buffer women from losing health insurance after divorce; however, since many women work part-time or in jobs without health insurance coverage, employment does not protect all woman, according to Lavelle and Smock.

“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 said. “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.”

In the meantime, tens of thousands of women lose their private health insurance every year – in addition to all the other economic losses that accompany divorce.

Some 65,000 divorced women lose all medical insurance coverage in the months following divorce because they no longer qualify as dependents or have difficulty paying premiums for other private insurance. Many do not qualify for Medicaid or other public insurance. Women who were insured as dependents on their husbands’ employer-based insurance policy are particularly vulnerable; nearly one-quarter of them are uninsured six months after divorce.

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