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Jerry Geisel

Most employers to keep health benefits for workers but some may drop spouses: Survey

June 9, 2014 - 2:58pm

Health Benefits for Spouses of Employees


Most employers will continue to offer health care coverage to their employees, but some will eliminate coverage for employees' spouses, according to a survey released Monday.

Just 6% of employers surveyed by Willis Group Holdings P.L.C survey say they will not comply with a Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandate that requires employers with at least 50 employees to offer coverage to their full-time employees or be hit with a stiff financial penalty. Sixty-two percent said they will comply with the mandate, and 32% said they were undecided.

That requirement goes into effect in 2015 for larger employers and in 2016 for smaller firms.

“The results of the survey underscore that organizations recognize the value of offering competitive medical benefits to employees and, despite concerns over health care reform, appear poised to continue to offer employer-sponsored health plans as part of a total rewards package,” said Jay Kirschbaum, St. Louis-based practice leader of the Willis human capital practice's national legal and research group, in a statement.

On the other hand, 12% of employers already have added a special surcharge or eliminated coverage to employees' spouses if the spouse is eligible for coverage from his or her own employers, while 3% plan to take such action between 2015 and 2018, and 20% will likely do so but haven't set a date yet.

The motivation behind such action is financial. Employers can reap significant financial savings when employees' spouses are not covered or are required to pay premium surcharges when they are eligible for coverage through their own employers but don't take it.

For example, the average premium in 2013 for employee-only coverage was $5,884, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington. Adding a spouse easily will double that premium, experts say.

Other findings

The health care reform law also gives employers a further incentive to pare their health plan enrollment numbers.

In 2014, employers have to pay a $63 reinsurance fee that is imposed for every health care plan participant, while a $44 per participant fee will be assessed in 2016. The amount of the fee in 2017 — the last year such fees will be imposed — has not been set yet by federal regulators. Revenue generated by the transitional reinsurance program fee will be used to partially reimburse insurers for covering high-cost individuals through health exchanges.

The survey also found that just 37% of respondents have calculated the cost of the reform law on their health care plans.

That relatively low percentage “demonstrates that for many organizations, determining an accurate assessment of these figures is still a challenge,” the survey said.,

Among respondents that have calculated the cost impact, 54% said the law would boost costs between 0% and 5%, while 22% put the increase in the 5% to 10% range.

The survey is based on the responses of 1,033 employers, including 36% with between 100 and 499 employees and 26% with less than 100 employees.

 



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