N.H. Law Continues Health Insurance for Ex-Spouse After Divorce

July 23, 2007

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch has signed a law extending health insurance coverage to people who lose their insurance when their marriages break up.

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1., requires insurance companies to let divorced spouses remain on the ex-spouse’s policies for up to three years or until one spouse remarries. Under existing state and federal laws, ex-spouses may buy extended coverage under those policies for three years after they divorce, but critics say the cost often is prohibitive.

Coverage under a federal law known as COBRA can cost several times more than the couple paid for health insurance.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the Association of American Health Insurance Plans opposed the bill. Both warned of higher costs for employers. BAE Systems of Nashua, the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce and Business & Industry Association also indicated their opposition to the bill.

Others warned it would be especially hard on small employers to maintain coverage for divorced spouses.

But Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, a sponsor of the bill, argued letting ex-spouses go without health insurance costs taxpayers more in the long run.

Rep. Martha McLeod, another sponsor, also said the law makes sense.

“It’s a bright day when we find sensible solutions to ensuring that people don’t lose their health insurance,” said McLeod, D-Franconia.

She noted that more than 200 individuals and organizations, including the New Hampshire Women’s Lobby, worked for the law.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-Exeter, said the law will relieve the financial and emotional strain facing many divorcing couples.

Jannell Levine, a nurse, said her patients who now will be able to maintain employer-based health care coverage won’t need to fall back on government programs.

“In this time of rising health care costs, it is important to do everything we can to maintain and increase the number of insured patients in the state,” she said.

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