During this time of national debate about the Affordable Health Care Act, now two years old and being challenged in the United States Supreme Court, we are receiving media messages about Massachusetts health care reform that occurred during the Romney administration here, and it relationship to the federal law. The former governor opposes in the federal law, whose close cousin is the Massachusetts precedent. Should divorcing spouses be especially concerned?
Whether you see Obama Care as government intrusion into Americans’ self-determination, a weak substitute for a single payer system or somewhere in between, the impact on divorcing spouses, as opposed to the population at large, is not especially concerning. That is because, unlike residents of most states, we in Massachusetts do not look to federal law predominantly for post-divorce health coverage protection. The states that do rely on federal law can only assure a divorced non-employee spouse of up to 36 months of continuing health coverage on the other spouse’s work plan. So-called COBRA coverage costs 102% of the cost to the group to cover an individual, and when the three years expired, the ex-spouse is expelled from any continuing family plan that continues to cover the employee-spouse and children.
Massachusetts state law, by contrast, requires health insurance carriers to provide continuing coverage for a non-employee ex-spouse on the continuing family plan at no additional cost, until the employee ex-spouse marries another person. Even then, as long as the non-employee spouse remains unmarried and has no other employer-provided health insurance available, the insurance company is still required to extend coverage to the non-employee spouse for an indefinite period of time, at the same cost of an individual employee in the particular plan. Massachusetts’ law favors coverage for divorced people, and it controls over federal law for Massachusetts residents. (There are holes in our statute such as the “self-insured exception”, but the number of persons affected by that is relatively small.) There is nothing in the challenge to Obama Care that should adversely affect the Massachusetts protection of divorced spouses.
One aspect of Obama Care that has caught substantial attention and that often concerns divorcing parents, though not a divorce provision of the law per se, is the extension of coverage for dependent children to age 26 on their parent’s employment health plan. But, this existed in our state law before Congress adopted it, and there is no reason to assume that any action by the Supreme Court to strike this down nationally would impact on our state law. The same is true about our state law, which prohibits health insurance carriers from refusing to cover a person with pre-existing health conditions. If the federal “individual mandate” falls, that could challenge the viability of mandatory insurance here for political, but not likely for constitutional reasons.
Divorcing couples have enough problems, as is. The machinations of national politics and the U.S. Supreme Court will probably not make things more difficult for divorcing couples in Massachusetts on the question of health care, than for any other non-divorcing citizen. One less thing to worry about, and that is a good thing.