5 health and dental coverage options after a divorce

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From employer coverage to private insurance, here are your options for finding health and dental coverage after divorce.

If you were covered by your ex-spouse’s employer-insurance plan, you may not be able to stay as a dependent once the divorce is finalized.¹ Some health insurance companies view legal separation as the same as a divorce, so you won’t be able to remain a dependent on your spouse’s plan. Although your ex-spouse may be legally required to continue health and dental coverage for your children, you’ve got to figure out how to find coverage for yourself.

Retaining health and dental insurance after a divorce can be important to your financial stability, as medical bills have long been a financial hardship for Americans and are often a cause for bankruptcy. According to a 2019 study, 530,000 bankruptcies are filed annually because of debt accrued due to a medical illness.²

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1. Employer-sponsored coverage

You may have been a dependent on your spouse’s employer-sponsored insurance plan because it was the cheapest option for your family. However, if you’re eligible for health and dental coverage through your own employer, you may be able to sign up for a plan outside of the open enrollment period if you’ve lost coverage due to your divorce. Contact your benefits administrator for more information.

Companies with 50 or more full-time employees may be required to provide health coverage to all full-time employees, or else pay a tax penalty.³ But employers aren’t required to provide dental or vision coverage to their employees.

2. COBRA coverage

You can keep your ex-spouse’s employer health plan by paying for the plan yourself through COBRA coverage. COBRA allows you to pay for your ex-spouse’s employer’s plan for up to 36 months after your divorce.

COBRA applies to health plans sponsored by state and local governments, and to private companies with 20 or more employees. Some states have similar laws, which also apply to businesses smaller than 20 employees. However, under COBRA, you will be responsible for the entire amount of the premium, which your ex-spouse’s employer helped cover before. Because of this, a COBRA plan can be expensive.

You can choose a COBRA plan temporarily until you find a private insurance plan or a plan on the state or federal exchange. You can switch over to a new plan from your COBRA plan at any time. Understand your options for when your COBRA coverage ends.

3. Individual insurance

5 health and dental coverage options after a divorce

From savings on preventive dental cleanings to surgery, individual health and dental plans can help you manage your medical expenses and ensure your health into the future. Individual health or dental insurance is a type of insurance you can purchase on your own or for your family from an insurance company online, over the phone, or through a broker.

There are two main types of individual dental plans you can purchase: a Dental Health Maintenance Organization Plan (DHMO) or a Dental Preferred Provider Organization Plan (DPPO). Unlike employer-sponsored plans, individual dental insurance allows you to compare plans before choosing the one that makes the most sense for your needs and budget.

4. Income-based coverage through the health insurance marketplace

You may be able to find a discounted health and dental insurance plan after your divorce on one of the state health insurance exchanges that were created as part of the Affordable Care Act. To qualify for a discounted plan, your income must fall within a range, which is dependent on your location, marital status and other factors.⁴

You can find state marketplace plans during the annual open enrollment period, which usually takes place between November and December in most states, or you may qualify to enroll during the Special Enrollment Period. The Special Enrollment Period for the Marketplace is open to those who are losing employer-based coverage. You’ll have 60 days to enroll in a health plan, even outside of the annual open enrollment period.

5. Medicaid

You may qualify for a health or dental plan through Medicaid. This state- and federal-funded health insurance program covers mandatory eligibility groups such as pregnant women, seniors, and low-income persons.5 Medicaid also covers financially eligible groups, which are based on Modified Adjusted Gross Income rules.

Links to external sites are provided for your convenience in locating related information and services. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees expressly disclaim any responsibility for and do not maintain, control, recommend, or endorse third-party sites, organizations, products, or services and make no representation as to the completeness, suitability, or quality thereof.

Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.


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  1. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/insurance/insurance-after-divorce/, 2016

  2. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/nov/14/health-insurance-medical-bankruptcy-debt, 2019

  3. https://www.healthcare.gov/small-businesses/learn-more/how-aca-affects-businesses/ (Last accessed April 2020)

  4. https://www.healthcare.gov/lower-costs/qualifying-for-lower-costs/ (Last accessed April 2020)

  5. https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/eligibility/index.html (Last accessed April 2020)