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The Boston Globe

Business

UPS to end health coverage for working spouses

DALLAS — United Parcel Service Inc. plans to drop health insurance benefits for working spouses of nonunion employees if they can get coverage elsewhere. It blames the change partly on the new health care law.

UPS estimates that 15,000 of the 33,000 spouses it covers will be dropped.

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The change is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 for spouses of US employees.

The worldwide parcel delivery company says it is just going with the crowd. UPS cited a benefits consultant’s survey that found more companies are planning on restricting benefits for working spouses.

UPS said it was making the change because of rising health care costs and the 2010 law championed by President Obama.

The company said that it considered letting employees pay extra to cover their working spouses but decided that would be difficult to do.

‘‘Since the Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide affordable coverage, we believe your spouse should be covered by their own employer — just as UPS has a responsibility to offer coverage to you,’’ the company said in a memo to employees.

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According to benefits consultant Mercer LLC, relatively few large companies exclude coverage for spouses who have the option of other employer coverage.

Mercer said that in 2012, just 6 percent of companies with 500 or more employees excluded such spouses, although that was double the percentage in 2008. It said another 6 percent levied a surcharge to cover those spouses.

‘‘Employers are thinking about it because (health insurance) costs are continuing to go up,’’ said Mercer partner Joan Smyth. ‘‘They’re trying to walk a fine line between being fair to their employees but also being fiscally responsible.’’

Smyth said employers are waiting to see whether spouses can find coverage from public insurance exchanges to be created under the health law.

Other provisions of the law, such as a per-participant fee to subsidize premiums for high-cost people in the individual policy market, encourage employers to reduce the number of people they cover, she said.

Paul Fronstin, a senior research associate at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, said that the percentage of employers booting working spouses off plans is still small — it’s more common to simply add a surcharge for insuring them.

‘‘But trends start with small numbers,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s a herd mentality. When you have a big employer like UPS do this, it’s easier for other employers to do the same thing.’’

Andy McGowan, a UPS spokesman, said the change was part of the company’s effort to keep health insurance premiums at or below current levels for a ‘‘significant’’ number of employees.

He said the company’s premiums have risen sharply in recent years.

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