Divorce Mediation Blog

Spousal Medical Insurance After Divorce: A Priority

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Many, many years after Massachusetts’ (pre-Romney) groundbreaking effort to provide medical insurance for non-employee former spouses beyond the rights provided by the federal COBRA laws, we remain the most advanced state in this regard; but not without our own continuing uncertainties. In the most general terms, COBRA allows a divorced heterosexual person (don’t forget the Defense of Marriage Act: it is, regrettably, still national law) to buy continuing health coverage through the other spouse’s employer plan for a period of up to three years post-divorce only, at a cost of 102% of the cost of an individual plan member. Massachusetts, by contrast, offers an indefinite period of coverage at no cost beyond that required for the employee spouse to cover himself and children under a family plan without a fixed limitation of years; and when child coverage is no longer necessary, the non-employee may still have coverage on the family plan if the employee has not remarried, without a time limit. If the employee spouse marries another person, the former spouse may still be covered at the cost of an individual employee, by use of a rider. The non-employee spouse loses these rights whenever she remarries.

Yet, when the law was enacted, it had a loophole that has not, to this day, been closed:  self-insurance.  The law is an insurance statute and not a generic healthcare provision, so employers who choose not to buy an insurance product for their employees, but instead pay defined medical costs themselves, are exempt for the law, even if the hire an insurance company to provide administrative services to help run their internal plan.  It is likely that self-insurance employers become “insured” for the law’s purposes if they buy “stop loss” insurance (that is, if costs go above a certain amount, an insurance company steps in to cover the excess – think catastrophic coverage for the employer), but this information difficult to ascertain, uncertain and costly for the consumer to enforce.

There also remains a lack of clarity about what is a Massachusetts employer for purposes of the law. Many companies who do business here, but are based elsewhere, continue to contend that their obligations are covered by the (lack of) law to trump or augment COBRA in their home state. There is also uncertainty about what happens to the non-employee former spouse’s coverage if the employee changes jobs or moves out of state. To make matters more difficult, many company human resource departments appear, genuinely or not, to be hearing about our laws for the first time when counsel or client inquires.

For all of these reasons, it is a priority in any divorce action for the parties to gain and share the greatest level information possible about the employee spouse’s coverage, at the earliest time available in the divorce process. This information is all spelled out somewhere in paper or digital format; and if it is left to be treated as a last minute detail of divorce negotiation, or as one that is informed by casual representations only, disastrous and unanticipated consequences can occur. Sometimes, significant time must be invested in communicating with the employer about its state law obligations before they will be acknowledged and honored. In some cases, litigation, or the suggestion of same, may even be necessary.

As always, knowing is essential; and time is an ally.

Get e-mail notifications of new blog posts! Enter email address below.:

Delivered by FeedBurner

other articles

recent posts


divorce and family law Baseball divorce lawyers alimony laws Cohabitation facilitated negotiations divorce mediator Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act child support divorce arbitrator Same Sex Marriage Baseball Players med/arb family law arbitrators med-arb divorce arbitration resolve disputes divorce mediation lawyers Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly self-adjusting alimony separation General term alimony lawyer-attended mediation Defense of Marriage Act litigation Massachusetts lawyers COLA traditional negotiations divorce judgment alimony law Divorce Agreements health insurance The Seven Sins of Alimony Levine Dispute Resolution Center LLC Family Law Arbitration IRC §2704 divorce and family law mediators high-risk methodology Boston family law mediation divorce agreement Matrimonial Arbitration alimony statute Massachusetts alimony and child support Twinkies private dispute resolution divorce mediators conciliation arbitrator disputes Obamacare family and probate law disputes mediators Self-adjusting alimony orders special master Levine Dispute Resolution Levine Dispute Resolutions Baseball Arbitration family law arbitrator divorced divorce litigation arbitrators alternative dispute resolutions health coverage Child Support Guidelines Levine Dispute Resolution Center DOMA Act Reforming Alimony in the Commonwealth Uniform Arbitration Act alimony reform legislation lawyer MLB labor agreement family support divorce mediations divorce arbitrators Major League Baseball Arbitration rehabilitative alimony Divorce how baseball arbitration works dispute resolution Massachusetts alimony Chouteau Levine support orders SJC family law mediation medical benefits family mediation pre-ARA alimony alimony arbitration Massachusetts divorce mediators Massachusetts mediations divorce process alimony orders Alimony Reform Act LDRC mediator