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The Boston Globe

Business

Employers look to cut back on spousal coverage

UPS excludes spouses from coverage if they are able to get insurance through another employer.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters/File

UPS excludes spouses from coverage if they are able to get insurance through another employer.

Your company may be having second thoughts about the health insurance it offers to your spouse. That means you might wind up paying more for that coverage or have to switch your spouse to another plan as early as next year.

Some employers are considering adding a surcharge to cover the health care expenses of their workers’ spouses. Others, like package deliverer United Parcel Service Inc., are excluding spouses from coverage if they are able to get insurance through another employer.

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Twenty percent of nearly 600 large employers in a survey completed earlier this year charged a spousal surcharge in 2013. An additional 13 percent plan to do so next year, according to the study, which was conducted by benefits consultant Towers Watson and the nonprofit National Business Group on Health. Those surcharges average about $100 a month, or roughly double what they averaged a couple years ago.

The study also found that 4 percent of companies excluded spouses from their health plans when similar coverage was available through the spouse’s employer. And another 8 percent planned to do so next year.

The changes are an effort by employers to control rising health care costs. Employer-provided coverage is the most common form of health insurance in the United States, covering about 149 million workers, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. And benefits consultants say that total could grow next year when the health care overhaul starts requiring most US residents to have insurance.

Tracy Watts, a senior partner at benefits consultancy Mercer, said companies ‘‘are looking for ways to still provide this benefit that is so valuable to their employees but at the same time manage how much they can afford to pay for those benefits.’’

When considering possible cuts, health care costs for spouses is an area employers consider because employees’ spouses tend to use the health care system more.

In some cases, benefits experts blame the difference on the fact that the spouse is often a woman. Women tend to use the health care system more as they move through their 20s and into middle age. Conversely, men generally use it more later in life. As a result, companies are rethinking spousal coverage. Although some employers expect to add surcharges for spousal coverage or are paying a smaller share of the bill for coverage that extends beyond the individual employee, a relatively small percentage of companies are planning to not cover spouses who can get benefits elsewhere.

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