Arizona law prohibits either spouse in a divorce proceeding from removing the other spouse from health insurance plans. This allows continuity of coverage during the proceeding, but once the divorce is finalized, it is typically each party’s own responsibility to provide their own insurance, and many find themselves without coverage. Naturally, this is often most difficult for an unemployed spouse, those with pre-existing conditions, and those over 50.
A 2012 study found that every year, about 115,000 women lose their health insurance after getting divorced. Many either are unemployed or are ineligible for health insurance through their employers. Even for spouses who could have COBRA benefits under an ex-spouse’s plan, many cannot afford the premiums. According to the study, approximately 25% of those women still do not have health insurance six months after divorce.
Health care exchanges established through the Affordable Care Act may remove a significant hurdle for many divorced spouses. By forcing providers to accept those with pre-existing conditions and subsidizing premiums, many uninsureds will obtain more affordable insurance. The law also affects divorced families in other ways. In Arizona, one factor in making an award of spousal maintenance (what some states call alimony) is the cost of health insurance for the spouse who is seeking the award of spousal maintenance. Thus, by allowing a spouse to obtain less expensive health coverage, it should lower the obligation of the other spouse who would be paying spousal maintenance.
Naturally, there will be disputes as to what level of health coverage is reasonable. The Affordable Care Act provides many levels of coverage from bronze to platinum. Judges currently can decide what level or cost of health insurance is reasonable, and this will likely transition to a new analysis under the “Obamacare” system.