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Employers Scale Back Insurance Contributions By Axing Family Plans

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Unread 02.24.13, 11:57 PM
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Employers Scale Back Insurance Contributions By Axing Family Plans

02.24.13 10:01 PM

Most employer-supplemented health insurance plans have long given workers the option either of electing single-patient coverage for themselves or a family plan that includes spouses and children.

If you have a job with employer-sponsored insurance, you likely know the difference in cost between an individual coverage policy and a family policy. And that difference — for yourself and, often, for your employer — is vast.

If you aren’t a government employee and your employer is paying half your single-coverage premium (or more), the chances are good that they’ve made a very conscientious — perhaps even a financially painful — decision to assist you with your healthcare costs. Take offense, but call it charity.

Yet the exigencies of the changing healthcare business are gradually informing many employers’ decisions to scale back their contributions to employee premiums.

Most often, the self-imposed frugality is coming not in the form of business owners reducing their contributions to individual premiums. Rather, employers are eliminating sponsored family coverage policies altogether, while focusing on what they can do to keep individual coverage affordable.

A Marketwatch story attributes the change to employers who anticipate absorbing increased per-patient expenses as the timeline for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act slowly unfolds. Historically, many employers have offered subsidized coverage only to their own workers’ individual plans — if, that is, they have working spouses who’re eligible for single coverage at their own jobs.

But with Obamacare proffering health coverage even for those who don’t have jobs — and there are plenty of spouses who don’t — companies that once offered family coverage are, understandably, finding less incentive to go the extra mile.

Research and analysis released Friday by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index concludes it’s still difficult to predict how pervasive such changes could ultimately become or how Obamacare policies will affect employers’ decisions:
Beginning in 2014, under the Affordable Care Act, large employers will be required to pay a fee — called an “assessment” — if they do not provide adequate insurance coverage and their employees receive tax credits to buy their own insurance. Whether this creates an incentive for employers to provide affordable coverage, or whether they will simply pay the penalty remains unclear, thus the future direction of the employer-based insurance rates in the U.S. is yet to be determined.

But human nature is self-interested, and it’s reasonable to expect that many employers won’t voluntarily subsidize insurance policies for those spouses who soon may be covered by an expanded Medicaid program.

Much will depend on just how damaging the new law’s punitive “assessment” fees may wreak on small businesses’ bottom lines.

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