How Marriage and Divorce Affect Your Medicare Benefits

Being Married Could Save You Money

Unlike Medicaid, Medicare does not cover everyone in your family. Each individual has to meet Medicare eligibility criteria on their own. Those criteria include not only U.S. citizenship or legal residency but also proof of medical need. That medical need may be based on being 65 years of age or older or on your having a qualifying disability.

Although you cannot get your family covered by Medicare, your family life plays a role in how much you will pay for Medicare.

Married couple holding wedding rings
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Underage Children Being Raised by Medicare Beneficiaries

In 2010, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) allowed young adults under the age of 26 to remain on their parents' health plans. The problem? This provision does not extend to Medicare. That can put many families on the hook for paying out of pocket for other sources of health care.

  • Disabled parents may need to provide health coverage for their children. They will need to access alternate insurance coverage and this is most often through Medicaid. More than 10 million people for Medicaid based on a disability.
  • Challenges also arise for grand families and families where children are raised by their grandparents. More than 2.4 million grandparents are responsible for the needs of their grandchildren. Many of these grandparents will be older and on Medicare.

Health insurance marketplace or private insurance plans may be viable options to cover health care for these children.

Defining Marriage According to Medicare

Prior to June 2013, marriage for the purposes of Medicare was defined as the legal union between a man and a woman. This was established by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). When part of DOMA was repealed in 2013, the federal government offered Medicare benefits to same-sex married couples but only if they resided in states that recognized those marriages. The U.S. Supreme Court has since struck down DOMA. As of June 2015, all marriages, same-sex or opposite-sex, are recognized for Medicare coverage no matter where they live in the country.

Qualifying for Medicare Savings by Marriage

There are several ways that marriage can save you money in Medicare. Each part of Medicare has its own rules. When you file taxes jointly, you may be put into a different income bracket that will change how much you are required to pay for your Part B or Part D premiums. Depending on your joint income, you may also be eligible for different Medicare savings programs. The income thresholds for these programs may be less for married couples than for single people.

The biggest benefit comes with Medicare Part A coverage. You can receive this hospital insurance for free, meaning that you will not pay a monthly premium, if you have worked 10 years (40 quarters) in Medicare-eligible employment. Essentially, the government wants to know that you paid your fair share of Medicare taxes into the system. It may be the case that you have not worked an adequate number of quarters to qualify you. However, you can be eligible for free Part A premiums on your spouse's record.

For this to happen, your spouse needs to be eligible for Social Security and have contributed 40 quarters in Medicare-taxed employment. You must also be married for at least one year before applying for free Part A benefits.

What Divorce Does to Your Medicare Costs

If you get divorced, you could still benefit from the work history of your former spouse and get free Part A premiums. You must meet the following conditions:

  1. You were married for at least 10 years before you divorced.
  2. You remain single.

What Being Widowed Does to Your Medicare Costs

If you are widowed, you could be eligible for free Part A premiums under the following conditions:

  1. You were married for at least nine months before your spouse passed away.
  2. You remain single.

What Happens to Your Medicare Costs When You Remarry

Remarrying after a divorce can have varying effects on your Medicare rights.

  • If you remarry and your former spouse is alive. Your former marriage will no longer be considered by Medicare when determining your Part A premium costs. 
  • If you remarry and your former spouse passes away. You will be eligible for free Part A on your former spouse's record if you remarried after age 60.
  • If you remarry and then divorce. Your Part A premiums may be based on the record on any of your former spouses as long as you remain single.

A Word from VeryWell

Medicare provides health care for qualifying individuals but cannot be applied to families. This can leave parents and grandparents on Medicare struggling to find ways to cover their children and grandchildren. Know your rights and find ways to decrease your healthcare costs.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission. People with Disabilities.

  2. U.S. Census Bureau. 2019 American Community Survey: Selected Social Characteristics in the United States.

  3. AARP. Marital Status and Medicare Eligibility.

By Tanya Feke, MD
Tanya Feke, MD, is a board-certified family physician, patient advocate and best-selling author of "Medicare Essentials: A Physician Insider Explains the Fine Print."