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Divorced women risk losing their health care

Here's a startling fact to ponder - Every year 115,000 American women lose their health insurance coverage as a result of divorce. A University of Michigan study dug up that statistic. The researchers also found that it takes about two years for those women to obtain new insurance that is substantially equal to what they had before the divorce. The result is many of those women stop seeing their doctor and have trouble paying their medical bills when they do.

Sadly, at least 65,000 divorced women join the ranks of the long-term uninsured each year which, the experts say, compounds their economic loss and degrades the quality of their life and health. Middle-income women earning between 200 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty level were among the hardest hit. They make too much money for Medicaid or other public assistance but can't afford to retain their previous coverage through COBRA. This is such a serious problem that some women stay in unhappy, doomed marriages just to hang on to their insurance, especially if they have a chronic condition.

There is also the shame factor to consider. Coming in to the doctor's office with a Medicaid card or public assistance insurance can be embarrassing, and some women worry that they will be treated differently than privately insured patients. Those who are ill and need care will often put it off or cancel altogether because they can't afford the co-pay. It's not hard to predict the effect on a family being raised by a single mother. As illness saps her strength, taking care of the children becomes harder, and no insurance coverage for the kids means long waits at hospital emergency rooms instead of seeing a pediatrician in her office, a much better way to get proper care.

Some doctors offer discounts or financing programs, but not many. When the new federal health care law takes full effect in 2014 some of the issues raised in the Michigan study may be resolved. But no one can say for sure, as the federal government is still trying to work out thousands of details needed to make the law actually do what it is supposed to do.

Source: American Medical News, "Divorce raises risk women will be left without health coverage," Karen Caffarini, Dec. 11, 2012

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