Medicaid Expansion and the Divorce Rate

NPR’s Morning Edition recently hosted a discussion on the Affordable Care Act. Social scientist Shankar Vedantam and host David Greene explored research behind Medicaid expansion and its impact on divorce. As we have done previously, we will stay out of political viewpoints and explore the discussion from our eyes as divorce attorneys.

Research Background

One of the tenets of the Affordable Care Act allowed individual states to opt into expanded Medicaid coverage. This expanded coverage aimed to help provide insurance for people who could not otherwise afford it, yet were above income limits for traditional Medicaid. The split of states that chose to expand Medicaid versus those that did not gave researchers a unique opportunity to compare the impacts of Medicaid on many social factors, including divorce.

Medical Divorces

Researchers David Slusky and Donna Ginther explored how Medicaid expansion impacted the divorce rate. Under traditional Medicaid rules, elderly couples were sometimes put in a position to get a “Medicaid divorce”. A Medicaid divorce was used to protect marital assets behind one person so that the ill spouse could qualify for Medicaid without draining shared/retirement assets.

The Research

Slusky and Ginther looked at a total of 40 states, evenly split between Medicaid expansion and no expansion. They analyzed the divorce rate among people between 50-64 years old and compared the rates from 2008-2011 and 2014-2015. The research, published in February of 2017, found that the 20 states that opted into Medicaid expansion saw a 5.6% decrease in the divorce rate among the target age group.

The pair believes “this suggests that Medicaid without asset limits for low-income individuals significantly reduced the incidence of divorce, strongly suggesting that medical divorce was reduced in the first year of the Affordable Care Act.” The Medicaid expansion included a provision that removed all asset tests for qualification, which would eliminate the need for any form of Medicaid divorce.

As divorce attorneys, we know there are a wide range of factors that can influence the divorce rate. We recently covered the trend of a continually decreasing divorce rate nationwide, which could also impact the age range studied by Slusky and Ginther. While healthcare reform continues to be a national discussion, this study is at the very least a reminder of how the law can impact much more than just healthcare.

Michigan was not among the 40 states analyzed in the research, though it was a Medicaid expansion state as of early 2014. The divorce rate in Michigan has dropped for several consecutive years and remains below the national average.

Vedantam, S. (2017, March 8). The Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Divorce. Retrieved March 9, 2017 from http://www.npr.org/2017/03/08/519170657/the-affordable-care-act-medicaid-and-divorce

Viviani, N. (2017, February 16). It looks like Medicaid expansion may be lowering divorce rates. Retrieved March 9, 2017 from http://www.wibw.com/content/news/It-looks-like-Medicaid-expansion-may-be-lowering-divorce-rates-413958813.html