Question: I am in middle management for a large industrial company and pay for a family plan that covers me and my two children. My wife is a teacher whose school board provides single coverage for her (for a fee) that’s nowhere near as good as mine - she can’t opt out. My employer recently announced that effective May 1, if any of us have a spouse with health care coverage, we need to enroll our children on their plan and be covered only as “single” on our own existing plan. No explanation was given although I suspect that in my industry which is predominantly male, the company wants to save costs by not covering child delivery and other costs not directly incurred by the actual employee. Switching to my wife’s plan would be a) more expensive and b) provide less coverage than my children have now. Is this legal?
Answer: Employers increase employee cost-sharing to order to deal with the ever increasing cost of providing health care benefits for its employees. Generally, this occurs after the employer has absorbed much of the cost increases themselves. Usually this cost sharing takes the form of requiring a larger employee premium contribution or a reduction in benefits. As far as I know, your employer has the right to insist that a spouse or dependent must opt out of your coverage if they have access to coverage through their own employer. Requiring you spouse to cover your children on her employer’s health plan doesn’t seem fair. There is not yet (2014) any law that says employers have to provide health insurance at all, but if they do they must follow federal ERISA regulations that among other things govern “fairness” in the administration to the plan. For a more definitive answer, you will have to ask an HR attorney.