As a result of the recent tummult in Washington DC married couples are avoiding getting divorced in fear that their health coverage will also get terminated. The health care uncertainty in Washington, D.C. is causing some separating couples to press pause on their divorces, financial planners and divorce attorneys say.
Because this country is one of the only developed nations where coverage is tied to employment and, often, marital status, health insurance has always been a factor in American divorces. Even before President Donald Trump’s election last November threatened the future of the ACA, couples with a non-working spouse in the midst of chemotherapy tended to stick together for fear of upending treatment, says John Slowiaczek, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
Divorced spouses have long been entitled to remain on their ex’s plan for up to three years of continued coverage under COBRA. After those benefits run out, they’re on their own. Before the ACA, that often meant trying to find coverage on an individual market that in most states discriminated against people with pre-existing conditions, charging them more for coverage or even denying them outright.
But even without that amendment, the proposed legislation would discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions in a backdoor way, by allowing states to narrow the list of benefits that insurers must cover. Premiums for policies that covered services considered non-essential, such as mental health or maternity, could become “extremely expensive” in states that narrowed their requirements, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
In this climate, it’s hard to predict what premiums might look like in the coming years. But since the cost of health insurance often factors into the calculation of alimony, also known as spousal support or maintenance, attorneys must make their best estimate.
When budgeting for health care costs post-divorce, people often forget about their deductible, says Michelle Smith, CEO of Smith Financial Strategies Group in New York City and a certified divorce financial analyst. Deductibles for the benchmark plan could top $10,000 in 2026 under the latest version of Better Care Reconciliation Act, according to the CBO — a huge line item to overlook. Smith also looks at two years’ worth of her clients’ explanations of benefits to get a more granular look at their health care expenditures for budgeting purposes.
People going onto COBRA now will come off it in the middle of the next presidential election cycle. No matter what happens in Congress in the coming weeks, health care will likely remain a hot button issue, especially for those looking to split. “Who knows what safety net will be there?” Smith says.