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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Affordable Care Act: How Employers Change Coverage

By Randy Dotinga

Reviewed by Lisa Zamosky

WebMD Health News

Sept. 24, 2013 -- The Affordable Care Act takes full effect on Jan. 1, 2014, and the questions are coming fast and furious: Do I need to buy new health insurance? How much will coverage cost?

And then there's this humdinger: My company is doing what?

If you find yourself asking this question, join the club. Employers as diverse as UPS, Walgreens, and Trader Joe's are making major adjustments to how they offer health insurance to their workers.

Most Americans get their insurance through employers. In 2012, the Economic Policy Institute estimated that 59% of Americans under age 65 were covered by employer-sponsored health insurance. That number has fallen for 10 years in a row, though, as companies search for ways to trim costs.

Here are five things that might change for you:

1. Your Working Spouse Might Lose Coverage

UPS has been in the news over eliminating health insurance benefits for thousands of working spouses of employees. Why? Because of rising medical costs and because the spouses have access to policies through their own workplaces.

Cutting benefits for working spouses isn't a new idea. "It's part of a long-running trend of employers looking more carefully at who's eligible for coverage," says Thomas Buchmueller, a professor of business economics at the University of Michigan.

So why is UPS making its decision now? The company is pointing a finger at the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, saying the law is partially responsible for its decision.

2. You Might Have to Buy a Policy if You Work Part-Time

Unlike many companies, the Trader Joe's grocery chain has long offered coverage to part-time workers for a price. As a result, Trader Joe's has become a popular place to work for people like actors who want insurance but don't want a full-time job.

The company is changing things in January. Part-time employees will get $500 checks to spend on coverage through the online Marketplaces, also known as "Exchanges," created by the Affordable Care Act.

Is it a good deal? It depends. Some workers could find themselves with higher bills overall. But part-time Trader Joe's employees already pay part of the cost of their coverage, and many will get subsidies (financial aid) from the federal government to help them afford new policies.

"Their move is driven by a calculation that their part-time employees will face lower insurance costs -- and therefore higher take-home pay -- if they go to the Exchange," Buchmueller says. "The math does not work out that way for full-time employees, so Trader Joe's is keeping those benefits in place." 

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