Health Insurance Options Post-Divorce (Part 2)

By Jennifer M. Paine

Attorney, Cordell & Cordell

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series on health insurance and divorce. Click here to read Part 1, which discussed COBRA.

If fear of losing health insurance is the issue holding you back from getting a divorce, you really should have a discussion with your attorney. You may negotiate for your soon-to-be ex to pay your health insurance, and you may qualify for employer-provided, free or low cost insurance programs.

You do have options! Here are the most common options:


Medicaid provides health insurance to certain low-income adults and families and all children living below the federal poverty level. It is a program funded partly with state money and partly with federal money, and each state administers it under that state’s eligibility requirements.

While poverty is a key requirement, poverty along is insufficient; the applicant or the applicant’s family must fall within one of the state-specified categories of recipients, which include individuals who are pregnant, disabled, of a specified age, severely poor and a U.S. citizen or a lawfully admitted immigrant. Each state’s application and program requirements are different. Therefore, you should contact your department of community health to learn what requirements apply in your state.

If you or your children qualify, Medicaid could pay for preventive care, screening and treatment of health conditions and diseases, medications, physician visits, hospital visits and dental and vision services.

To learn more about the Medicaid services in your state, contact your community health department, a hospital client account department (they will have Medicaid information and applications for you, but, beware, they cannot provide legal advice), or the federal Medicaid call center at 1-877-543-7669.



But what if COBRA benefits are too expensive and you and your children do not qualify for Medicaid? Until you can afford health insurance for your family or your employer provides it as a benefit of employment, apply for CHIP for your children and consider purchasing private health insurance for yourself.

“CHIP” is the acronym for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The program started in 1997 as a partnership between the federal government and the states to provide low-cost health insurance for families who cannot afford COBRA benefits or private health insurance but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

In February 2009, President Obama refunded the program. Each state determines which children are eligible, premiums, cost-sharing, administrative procedures and benefits packages. At a minimum, however, the state must pay for routine check-ups (that are always paid) and immunizations, dental, hospital care, and laboratory and x-ray services (that may come at a reduced cost).

The program is available in all states. To lean more about the program in your state and how to apply, call the federal call center at 1-877-KIDS NOW.

Before your divorce, use the health insurance available to you! (Strategically, I recommend my clients do this before we file for divorce so that any debts for co-pays, lab costs, etc., are more likely to be treated as marital debt to be divided between the spouses, rather than separate debt to be foisted on one party.)

Go to that annual check up. Fill your prescriptions. Have your eyes examined and your teeth cleaned. If a serious surgery is in your future, seriously consider when and why you will divorce. Talk to your doctors about your immediate and future health needs, what insurance to obtain and whether low-cost substitutes (e.g., a generic medicine) are available to you.

Just staying married may not be the healthiest choice. A man stopped to my office recently ashen, sluggish and in pain. He was tall, average weight and middle-aged, but he looked like an old man, like something out of a Dickens novel, with years of an unhappy marriage weighing him down. He told me he stayed married for his four children’s sake. They grew up to be two doctors, a vocalist and an engineer. That was 31 years ago – 31 years of walking on eggshells, as he described it – and the children have all returned to him to ask him why he stayed married so long.

He lamented that he missed out on a lot of happiness in his life, and, had he known his children would have supported a divorce, he would have divorced his wife sooner. Now, he has stress ulcers, high blood pressure and chronic heartburn. He swears they are related to his marriage – and he even asked if he could sue for “pain and suffering.” (This short answer is, usually, no.)

But he makes a point – it is not always best to stay married for health insurance. You do have options.

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series on health insurance and divorce. Click here to read Part 1, which discussed COBRA.


Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims.

Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

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