Ladies: Protect Your Health Insurance During Divorce

About 115,000 women nationwide lose private health insurance every year after divorce, and 65,000 of them become uninsured for months or even years, according to a recent University of Michigan study.

The study, published in the December 2012 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, analyzed data from 1996 through 2007 on women ages 26 to 64. The University of Michigan National Poverty Center supported the research.

"Moderate-income women are more likely to lose coverage than higher income and low-income women," says lead author Bridget Lavelle, who conducted the study with UM sociologist Pamela Smock. "They're earning too much money to qualify for public assistance, like Medicaid."

Yet they don't make enough money to afford a new health insurance plan.

Women who are dependents on their spouses' employer-sponsored health plans are particularly at risk. A quarter of them are uninsured six months after divorce, according to the study.

Those who have their own employer-sponsored coverage are less likely to lose it after divorce. Still, 11 percent of them become uninsured. The study didn't examine why those women lost coverage, but Lavelle speculates they were no longer able to afford their share of the premium.

Women ages 50 to 64 are more vulnerable to losing health insurance than younger women.

Health care reform might help

Other studies have shown that women's incomes drop after divorce and that married people are generally healthier than single people. But little research has focused on how divorce impacts health insurance, says Lavelle, a doctoral candidate in public policy and sociology.

The study did not look at how divorce affects health insurance coverage for men, but Lavelle says that's a good question to address in future research. The impact on men may not be as severe because women are more likely to be dependents on their spouses' health plans than men, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And previous research has shown that women suffer greater economic losses after divorce than men.