“Companies have a new solution to rising health-insurance costs: Break up their employees??? marriages,” says the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch:
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 its 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.
But… but… “if you like your plan, you can keep your 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. Holdouts say they feel under pressure to follow suit. ???We???re the last domino,??? says Duke Bennett, mayor of Terre Haute, Ind., which is instituting a spousal carve-out for the city???s health plan, effective July 2013, after nearly all major employers in the area dropped spouses.
MarketWatch cites anecdotal evidence that some people are dropping their personal coverage so they can migrate to joint coverage provided by companies that do continue to offer it. That’s a nice near-term solution… if you happen to be married to someone who works for such a company. In the longer-term, what happens to the remaining plans that offer spousal coverage, after they’ve attracted all of those expensive spouses?
While couples generally prefer to be on the same health plan, companies often find that spouses are more expensive to insure than their own employees. That???s because, say benefits experts, covered spouses tend to be women, who as a group not only spend more on health care, but also have more free time to go to the doctor if they don???t work. Indeed, JetBlue???s covered spouses cost 50% more than crewmembers themselves, according to the airline???s online Q&A about its health plan, which this year extended wellness incentives to spouses for the first time.
About a fifth of companies had policies to discourage spouses from joining their health plan in 2012, according to Mercer, though most just charged extra???$100 a month, on average???to cover spouses who could get insurance elsewhere, rather than deny coverage entirely. Indeed, large firms including generics maker Teva and supply chain manager Intermec have spousal surcharges costing $100 a month, or $1,200 annually, while Xerox charges $1,000 for the year.
Coming in 2014: the ObamaCare public exchanges, which will provide a convenient release valve for all of these costs… by putting a gigantic number of people on the taxpayer’s dime. It sounds like it’s going to be far more than the creators of ObamaCare anticipated. That should blast our sky-high federal deficit right out of the Solar System. And the people who did this to us will be standing by to assure us that the answer is even bigger government and less freedom: the outright nationalization of health care.
Meanwhile, the current situation is forcing families to make some painful decisions:
Couples then have to decide whether to stick together, even if it means losing benefits, or to split up so at least one spouse maintains coverage. If they separate, they may also have to choose which plan to insure the kids under, or whether to use different plans for each. ???It certainly makes the family unit have to do some real soul-searching and figure out what works best for them,??? says Karen McLeese, vice president of employee regulatory affairs for CBIZ Benefits & Insurance Services. The decision, she adds, will likely come down to dollars and cents.
“Soul searching?” Does anyone remember that being part of the ObamaCare sales pitch in 2009?