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Divorce Puts Women at Risk of Losing Health Insurance, Study Finds

FRIDAY, Nov. 16 (HealthDay News) -- As if marriage break-ups aren't already difficult enough, each year in the United States about 115,000 women lose their private health insurance after a divorce, researchers say.

And women's overall insurance coverage remains lower for more than two years after divorce, the new study found.

For the study, University of Michigan researchers analyzed national data from 1996 through 2007 on women aged 26 to 64. The findings are published in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

"Given that approximately 1 million divorces occur each year in the U.S., and that many women get health coverage through their husbands, the impact is quite substantial," lead author Bridget Lavelle, a Ph.D. candidate in public policy and sociology, said in a university news release.

She and her colleagues also found that about 65,000 U.S. women a year lose all health insurance coverage in the months following divorce. Many of these women are unable to keep private coverage because they no longer qualify as dependents under their husbands' health insurance plans, or they have difficulty paying premiums for other types of private insurance.

And although divorced women often experience financial hardship, they may not be eligible for Medicaid or other public insurance, the researchers explained.

Nearly one-quarter of women who were insured as dependents on their husband's employer-based coverage are uninsured six months after divorce, the investigators found. And even though women with their own employer-based coverage are less likely than other women to lose coverage after a divorce (11 percent versus 17 percent), financial difficulties may make it hard for them to be able to afford their share of the employer-based coverage.

"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 can help protect women from losing health insurance after divorce, but many jobs don't provide health insurance coverage, the researchers noted.

"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 study authors concluded.

The Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, aims to improve the U.S. health care system by increasing access to health coverage for Americans. The ACA is scheduled to go into full effect in 2014.

More information

Mental Health America offers advice for coping with separation and divorce.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, Nov. 12, 2012

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