Can you keep your health insurance after a divorce?
You’ve just gotten divorced a few weeks ago; breathe easy, you’ve been through a lot, but on with life! Then you check your mailbox and find a cancellation notice from your health insurance company. What went wrong? What’s going to happen to those bills for the prescriptions and the doctor’s visit last week that are now uninsured? Chances are it’s all going to work out OK, but you may need to call your divorce attorney for a little more help.
How do you get COBRA benefits?
If you were on your ex-spouse’s health insurance as of the date of divorce, you probably qualify for COBRA benefits. COBRA stands for Consolidation Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, a law passed in 1986. The law provides for continuation of group health insurance benefits for a temporary period after an event like a divorce. You should notify the health insurance provider (usually, your ex-spouse’s employer) of the divorce within 60 days after the date of divorce. Once you’ve done that, within 14 days the plan is required to send you information on how to select and start COBRA health insurance benefits.
Your COBRA policy is neither free nor cheap, however. It will probably cost more than health insurance did while you were married, because you now have to pay both the employee’s contribution and the employer’s contribution to the policy. In many instances, it may be less expensive for you to enroll in a privately-sourced plan or your own employer’s plan. If you are not yet divorced, you should ask your attorney about how to factor the cost of this health insurance into any spousal support claim you have.
What if you’re on FEHB?
You may be covered by Federal Employees Health Benefits if your ex-spouse is an employee of the Federal government or a retiree from such employment. You or your ex-spouse needs to notify the Office of Personnel Management (if retired) or the employing agency of the divorce immediately. The OPM or the employing agency will then send you information about how to apply for Temporary Continuation Coverage (TCC) and Spouse Equity coverage. If you apply timely (within the first 60 days after divorce), you should be able to enroll in a health insurance plan very similar to what you had during your marriage. If at all possible, file your applications within 30 days after divorce, so that you obtain the automatic extension of coverage from the date of divorce. Doing so will help increase the chances that medical bills you incur after divorce will ultimately be covered by insurance instead of having to be paid out of pocket.
What if you can’t afford health insurance?
If you are unable to afford COBRA or a wholly private health insurance policy, check into your state’s options for subsidized insurance. You may be eligible for Medicaid, or for a subsidized policy on the exchanges. At the very least, contact your child support agency and ask about health insurance that can be provided for your children by the state – often they will bill your ex-spouse as part of his or her child support payment.
For more information about your rights and options related to divorce, child custody, and support issues, be sure to consult with an attorney. As always, this post does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.