According to an eye-opening study that will be published in December’s Journal of Health and Social Behavior, each year over 115,000 women in the lose their health insurance shortly after divorce – and a staggering 65,000 of those women will become uninsurable over the long term.
The study, which was led by University of Michigan doctoral candidate Bridget Lavelle, analyzed data from nearly 1500 women who participated in the Survey of Income and Program Participation.
Women Lose Health Insurance After Divorce
“Women often experience fairly substantial losses of economic resources after divorce, more so than their spouses — so many women get pushed below the poverty line,” Lavelle told the Health Behavior News Service. “Married people also have higher incomes, more social support and better health behaviors than unmarried people, which also play a role. But the possibility that this specific resource of health insurance may be an important contributing factor has received surprisingly little attention in the body of research that explores why married people really are healthier.”
It’s a view shared by Lavelle’s academic colleague Dr. Deborah Carr, a sociology professor at Rutgers University, who told the Health Behavior News Service that the study is both “important and path-breaking.”
“Researchers have long known that divorce has negative consequences for women’s (and men’s) physical and mental health,” commented Carr, “and that women often experience a major drop in household earnings and quality of life following divorce. However, no study until now has documented the far-reaching and persistent effect of divorce on women’s health insurance coverage…Impoverished divorced women whose very low incomes qualify them for Medicaid may have some access to care, but lower middle-class women with modest incomes may not qualify for Medicaid benefits, despite their precarious financial statuses. The long-term consequences for their physical and emotional health are potentially dire.”
That’s a tide that Lavelle hopes her study will stem and, ultimately, remedy.
“We hope our work will make policymakers aware that a system with de facto linkage between marital status and health insurance will have unintentional and adverse consequences.”