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Is Divorcing the Cure? Separating for Healthcare Benefits

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Captain and Tennille’s
recent divorce announcement shocked quite a few members of our office, but between renditions of “Muskrat Love” and reminisces of their ”˜70s heyday, we also debated whether there was more to their split than “irreconcilable differences.” Although we’ve written plenty about the “gray divorce revolution,” the odds were ever in their favor. It’s rare for a couple over 50, who have been married for 35 years or more, to separate””unless, however, they’re doing so to protect their assets and to claim certain social benefits.

The media was quick to latch on to this theory as well, citing Obamacare and health insurance as the straw that snapped the entertainment duo’s 39-year-old marriage. It certainly isn’t a preposterous presumption. The Captain (aka Daryl Dragon), 71, suffers from a neurological condition similar to Parkinson’s disease, and likely requires expensive full-time care. Instead of completely depleting their joint assets, a single Captain could qualify for Medicaid””in addition to Medicare–health plans that would possibly supply him with long-term assisted living and pay for clinical-trial treatments. Since they filed in Arizona, a community-property state that splits everything 50-50, he would only exhaust his own resources and Tennille, 73, would still have something left to see her into the twilight years.

This is all pure speculation, of course, but overwhelming healthcare costs have long forced committed couples to divorce. In one case, a couple divorced so the wife could claim her deceased first husband’s social security benefits to help pay medical bills and to keep food on the table. In another, a couple about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary dissolved their marriage in order to qualify for Medicaid to cover the wife’s weekly chemotherapy treatments. There could even be a rise in this trend with the Affordable Care Act, as a “potential marriage penalty” requires certain couples (particularly those without children, like Captain and Tennille) to pay significantly more for plans than their single counterparts.

On the other hand, it’s also commonplace for couples to stay together solely for retirement and health insurance benefits. In fact, remaining on your spouse’s healthcare plan is one of the main reasons legal separation is becoming a popular alternative to divorce in Colorado””though continued coverage isn’t always guaranteed.

As for Captain and Tennille, we may never know why love didn’t keep them together. Don’t lose all faith quite yet though. There’s always the possibility they could remarry after the Captain claims his hypothetical healthcare benefits””you know, in case once just wasn’t enough with a man like him.