Why your boss is dumping your wife

Companies are dropping health coverage for spouses to cut costs

Jen Wieczner

Companies have a new solution to rising health-insurance costs: Break up their employees’ marriages.

By denying coverage to spouses, employers not only save the annual premiums, but also the new fees that went into effect as part of the Affordable Care Act. This year, companies have to pay $1 or $2 “per life” covered on their plans, a sum that jumps to $65 in 2014. And health law guidelines proposed recently mandate coverage of employees’ dependent children (up to age 26), but husbands and wives are optional. “The question about whether it’s obligatory to cover the family of the employee is being thought through more than ever before,” says Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health.

While surcharges for spousal coverage are more common, last year, 6% of large employers excluded spouses, up from 5% in 2010, as did 4% of huge companies with at least 20,000 employees, twice as many as in 2010, according to human resources firm Mercer. These “spousal carve-outs,” or “working spouse provisions,” generally prohibit only people who could get coverage through their own job from enrolling in their spouse’s plan.

Such exclusions barely existed three years ago, but experts expect an increasing number of employers to adopt them: “That’s the next step,” Darling says. HMS, a company that audits plans for employers, estimates that nearly a third of companies might have such policies now…

…experts say more firms are likely to drop spouses altogether, whether they work or not—especially when the new federal health-care exchanges open in 2014, providing an alternative for spouses left out in the cold. “When there’s a place for people to go, employers won’t feel as beholden or compelled to cover the spouse,” says Joan Smyth, an employee benefits consultant with Mercer…

The entire article is at MarketWatch.

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