Add health insurance to the economic costs of getting divorce for many women.

A study by researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor found that each year, tens of thousands of women lose their private health insurance after they divorce.

And they may have trouble getting it back. The study finds the loss typically remains for more than two years after their divorce.

About 1 million divorces occur in the U.S. each year. Many women get their health insurance through their husbands. As a result, "the impact is quite substantial," Bridget Lavelle, a University of Michigan doctoral candidate in public policy and sociology and lead author of the study, says in a press release.

The study appears in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior and was supported by the University of Michigan National Poverty Center.

Lavelle and University of Michigan sociologist Pamela Smock conducted the study. They analyzed national longitudinal data from 1996 through 2007 on women ages 26 to 64.

Women insured through husbands most vulnerable

Among the key findings of their study:

  • About 115,000 women lose their private health insurance coverage every year as a result of divorce.
  • The most vulnerable are women who are listed as dependents on their husbands' employer-based insurance policies.
  • Nearly a quarter of the divorced women who lose their health insurance remain uninsured six months after they are divorced.

Women who have their own health insurance through their employers are less vulnerable to losing their coverage after their divorce than other women - 11 percent of women who have their own employer-sponsored plans lose health insurance after a divorce versus 17 percent of other women, the study finds.

However, women who get their health insurance elsewhere still are vulnerable because the divorce may reduce their ability to meet their other expenses, including their share of the employee-sponsored health-care premiums.

Job with benefits, education offer most protection

Women in moderate-income families are the most vulnerable to loss of health care insurance after a divorce, the study finds. Women from high income families may have other sources of private coverage and women from low-income families may have access to public safety-net insurance programs such as Medicaid.

The researchers found that the best way for women to protect themselves from losing their health insurance after a divorce are having a job and an education. However, they say, because many women work part-time or in jobs that don't provide health insurance coverage, employment may not be as protective as it seems.

The researchers also are affiliated with the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and the U-M College of Literature, Arts and Sciences.