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Getting health insurance if you're going through divorce

The end of the year often brings fun things like holiday parties, vacations and eggnog. The not-so-fun chore most of us would rather put off is deciding on our health care insurance for the next year. Making decisions about your health coverage is hard enough, but what if you are in the midst of divorce? Were you on your spouse's health care plan? Do you even know what benefits you need?

Few people consider these questions when first starting the divorce process. Here are a few tips if you are recently divorced or currently going through divorce on choosing the right health care plan:

  • Start thinking about your health coverage now. Whether or not you have finalized your divorce yet, you will need to budget for health care expenses post-divorce. Spousal support rarely covers health costs, and your ex is not obligated to continue providing you with health coverage if you were on a family plan. If you have children, you will also need to decide whose insurance will cover their medical needs or how to split those costs between the two of you.
  • Special enrollment coverage only lasts until Dec. 31. There are "special enrollment" periods for those who lose health coverage during the year. For divorced couples, this period lasts 60 days from the date your divorce is finalized. However, any coverage you sign up for during special enrollment ends on Dec. 31 of the calendar year, just like every other plan. Therefore, you may need to re-enroll for health care insurance during the open enrollment period, which runs from Nov. 1, 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016, for the federal and state exchanges. Open enrollment will vary for employer-provided insurance plans, so you may want to contact your HR department for help.
  • Don't settle for the first plan you find. Also, do not assume you will be automatically covered by COBRA insurance, which allows divorced spouses to keep group plan benefits if they were covered by a former spouse's health plan. COBRA insurance is expensive to maintain, and there are several options out there that might better fit your family's needs.
  • Ask for help. Ask your lawyer for advice on how best to manage your health care situation. He or she may be able to work it into your agreements or put you in touch with the right professionals to sort out this question. Florida's insurance exchange, Florida Health Choices, and the federal exchange website, HealthCare.gov, include helpful tips and numbers to call for assistance in choosing an appropriate health care plan.

Finally, remember that not signing up for insurance coverage comes with risk. Under the Affordable Care Act, those without health insurance must pay a tax of $695 and $347.50 for each dependent child under 18. You don't need these costs when trying to start afresh following divorce. Avoid these penalties and the stress they bring by making a plan now.

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