Older and About to Become an Ex? Think Health Insurance

If you're about to divorce in your 50s, 60s, or older, think ahead so you're not left in the lurch
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 10, 2023 1:00 PM CDT
Splitting Up in Your Golden Years? A Health Insurance Primer
Suddenly single can also mean suddenly without the same health insurance.   (Charlie Riedel)

More than 1 in 3 people who divorce in the United States are age 50 or older, and 1 in 4 are 65 or older, according to a 2022 analysis published in the Journals of Gerontology. Divorcing as you near retirement—or after you've retired—comes with considerations: Are you (or your spouse) losing health insurance? If you're retired but not yet eligible for Medicare, where will you find coverage? How does being an ex-spouse affect your Medicare costs? If you have health insurance through your own employer, not much will change, but if you're on Medicare or your partner's employer policy, you'll have to ask some questions. And you may want to help your ex make the transition, if they're on your policy. Here, some points to consider, per the AP:

  • Employer benefits: If you're still working, does your employer offer health coverage? If so, divorce is considered a life event that will qualify you to make changes to your benefits, such as enrolling in a health insurance plan. You have 30 days after your other coverage ends to request special plan changes.

  • COBRA access: If you were covered under your ex-spouse's employer plan, you can opt in to coverage under COBRA—the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act—for up to 36 months after the divorce. COBRA applies to group plans of employers that have at least 20 employees. "You should expect the insurance cost to be substantially higher, as now you are responsible for paying the entire premium amount," says Tamara Durbin, a certified financial planner in California. The decision to opt into COBRA partially depends on your ex-spouse's coverage, says Crystal Cox, a CFP in Wisconsin. "My husband's health insurance is amazing," she says. "If we were to get divorced, I would strongly consider using COBRA versus going on my own health plan."
  • Marketplace considerations: For many people, COBRA will be pricey (plus, it's temporary). To see what other plans might meet your needs and budget, shop the government health insurance marketplace. Start at healthcare.gov, although you may find that your state has its own marketplace site. If you're not sure how to choose a plan, a health insurance broker in your state can help you consider your choices at no cost to you.
  • Medicare eligibility: If you're 65 or older and haven't signed up for Medicare yet because you've been on your ex-spouse's employer group plan, now's the time. Losing coverage from an employer qualifies you for a special enrollment period that will allow you to sign up, even if it's not an open enrollment period. If you know when your coverage will end, take action beforehand, says Melinda Caughill, co-founder and CEO of 65 Incorporated, which offers guidance on Medicare. "That's ideal to avoid a gap in coverage," she says.
More here, including what happens if you're already on Medicare. (Read more health insurance stories.)

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