It looks like Medicaid expansion may be lowering divorce rates

Published: Feb. 16, 2017 at 10:05 AM CST
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A new paper by a pair of economists from the University of Kansas finds Medicaid expansion may reduce the divorce rate in older couples.

Professor of economics Donna Ginther and David Slusky, an associate professor of economics, reportedly found the divorce rate among people between the ages of 50 and 64 went down by 5.6% in the 20 states which expanded the program under the Affordable Care Act.

Ginther and Slusky say the reduction are possibly a result of so-called "medical divorces."

"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 researchers wrote in their paper.

In their paper, the authors compared divorce rates in the 20 states that adopted the expansion with 20 that didn't. They say they limited the age range to older people because they would have been married for a number of years, were likely to have greater assets, and were more vulnerable to a degenerative medication. They would also be eligible for Medicaid expansion.

They credit the drop to a reduction in 'medical divorces,' which they defined as a situation where one partner is diagnosed with a degenerative disease, like early onset dementia. Such a diagnosis could drain the couple's assets to pay for treatment. In that case, a couple might file for divorce, letting one partner shield the assets, while the other would qualify for Medicaid.

Ginther and Slusky compared divorce rates from 2008 to 2011, before the expansion, and from 2014 to 2015. The Medicaid expansion increased the cap to qualify to 138% of the poverty line and eliminated rules which factored assets into whether people would qualify.

Kansas is one of the states that did not expand Medicaid.

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