I was totally blown away.
Being a well-educated, professional person who has been part of the "divorce industry" for decades I thought I was pretty savvy about most things having to do with divorce. So, when I sat down to write an article about health insurance after divorce, I thought it would be easy.
Boy, was I wrong!
Figuring Out Health Insurance is Not for Sissies!
Just for grins, I decided to check out the healthcare.gov website myself. I wanted to know what my divorce clients who need to get health insurance actually face. So, I decided to pretend I was in the market for health insurance. I answered pages and pages of questions. (To be fair, they were all pretty simple.) Then I clicked on a button to see what I got.
I was completely unprepared for what came next: five pages listing various health insurance "plans," with six plans on a page! How was I supposed to figure out which one was best?
Sure, the list told me the estimated monthly premium for each plan, the deductible and annual out-of-pocket maximum amount I would pay. But, what doctors and hospitals did each plan cover? What was the difference between the plans, and how was I supposed to choose the one that was best for me?
I didn't know.
Comparing plans would clearly require hours (maybe days) of work. I would have to click through to see the details of each plan and compare them myself. I would have to determine which plans provided coverage for the doctors I already have. Then I would have to do my best to just figure it all out.
That was a scary thought.
Then I would have to actually apply for insurance and make sure I didn't totally screw it up. That was even scarier.
What to Do if You Need Health Insurance After Divorce
Diving into the world of health insurance taught me one thing for sure: health insurance is complicated! Unfortunately, it is also a necessary evil.
Not only are few people willing to fly without a health insurance net unless they have absolutely no choice, but these days, going without health insurance comes at a price. Beginning in 2016 you will pay a penalty of $695.00 per person ($347.50 per child under 18) if you don't have health insurance.
So what are you supposed to do? Here are:
Five Things You Need to Know About Health Insurance After Divorce
1. Don't wait until after you are divorced to start to figure this out! The only thing worse than having to figure out something as complicated and important as health insurance while your entire world is falling apart and you are an emotional wreck, is to realize after your divorce that you blew it and you are stuck paying outrageous premiums or, worse, going without health insurance, until the next open enrollment period occurs.
2. Be sure to factor health insurance costs AND projected annual increases in those costs into your post-divorce budget. With health insurance premiums rising steadily every year (sometimes at absolutely horrifying rates!) not factoring health insurance into your post-divorce budget can blow a hole in your finances big enough to drive a truck through! Before you settle your case, make sure you know what your health insurance will cost you for the next year. You also want to assume at least a 5% increase in premiums every year thereafter.
3. Pay attention to deadlines! Obamacare dramatically changed WHEN you can get insurance. You can't just get health insurance whenever you want anymore. You either have to apply for insurance during an "Open Enrollment Period" (this year, the open enrollment period runs from November 1, 2015, through January 31, 2016) OR you must be in a "Special Enrollment Period."
Getting divorced puts you into a special enrollment period for 60 days after your divorce. But, if you miss enrolling in a health insurance plan within those 60 days, you can't get health insurance until the next open enrollment period occurs, i.e. November 1, 2016.
4. Explore all of your options before you sign up for anything! Don't just assume that you will get health insurance through COBRA until you figure out something better. COBRA insurance is often expensive. What's more, once you elect to use COBRA coverage, you are going to be stuck keeping it until the next open enrollment period. That can effectively cost you thousands of dollars in premiums you don't need to pay.
5. Get help! No one is at the top of their game when they are in the middle of a divorce. Unless you can get health insurance through your own employer, and it is easy and affordable, it makes sense to look at your options. But the world of health insurance is so complicated, and it is changing so fast, that getting help is the smartest thing you can do.
Find an independent health insurance broker who can work with you to make sure you get the coverage you need at a price you can afford.