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Will the Affordable Care Act help women who are divorced?

Will the Affordable Care Act help women who are divorced?

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Here's a post I edited for my blog, WellBeeFile. I was wondering how the Affordable Care Act would affect divorced women, who often struggle financially, and hadn't seen this question asked in the media. I ran the question by social and health researcher Bridget Lavelle, at Washington State, and she provided this thorough and interesting response.

Q: Will the Affordable Care Act help women who are divorced?

A: Yes. The Affordable Care Act is expected to help a substantial number of divorced women maintain health insurance coverage, but the level of protections will vary depending on where you live.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, individuals covered through a spouse’s insurance policy while married—the majority of whom were women—had few affordable choices after divorce.

115,000 women in the U.S. lose private health insurance annually in the months following divorce

My research estimates that roughly 115,000 women in the U.S. lose private health insurance annually in the months following divorce and that roughly 65,000 of these women become uninsured.

Those who could not access health insurance through an employer of their own could purchase COBRA to temporarily extend coverage for up to 36 months. But COBRA premiums are high (averaged roughly $450 per month in 2011 for individual coverage), and may not be an option during the period of financial hardship that women often experience following divorce.

Nearly 25% of women who divorced in the past year fall below the federal poverty line (twice the rate of men). Another 20% are low-income. Despite this financial hardship, Medicaid often wasn't available due to low eligibility thresholds and most states’ exclusion of childless adults.

The Affordable Care Act expands the affordable options for women after divorce. They can now purchase new insurance that meets quality standards on the federal and state health exchanges and apply for premium tax credits to help pay for the coverage. If the divorce happens after the first enrollment period (which ends March 31, 2014), they can still buy in.

Getting divorced is considered a significant change in life circumstances, triggering a special open enrollment period and allowing women to quickly find new private insurance coverage.

Women with incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty line (between $11,490 and $45,960 for a single woman or between $19,530 and $78,120 for a woman with two children) will qualify for advanced tax credits that lower her premium costs, with higher levels of assistance provided to those with greater need.

For divorced women with incomes below the poverty line, most (including childless women) will now have access to Medicaid coverage if they live in a state  that has opted to expand their Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act (26 states as of September 16, 2013—see the current list here).

In states which have opted out of the expansion, some women living below the poverty line will neither qualify for Medicaid nor for premium assistance for purchasing private coverage. So while the ACA will help many divorced women, a vulnerable group remains which will continue to face barriers in accessing basic health care services. ” --Bridget Lavelle


Bridget Lavelle is a Senior Research Manager at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Research and Data Analysis Division. See her recent articles on divorce and women’s health insurance coverage here and here

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