Some businesses are making a scapegoat of Obamacare, blaming the president's extensive health reform for cuts that hurt workers.
They argue that reform mandates have forced them to cut benefits or reduce eligibility, even as workers pay more for coverage.
Who's right? Some benefits experts say blaming Obamacare, or formally the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is a straw man argument, that costs are rising anyway and companies run a risk in politicizing rising health-care costs.
"It's not as black and white as being able to say this is due to [reforms]," said Paul Fronstin, director of the health benefits research program at the Employee Benefits Research Institute. "I can certainly see it being a convenient excuse, even if it's not the real reason."
In an internal memo leaked last week, United Parcel Service said it would no longer provide health coverage for spouses of roughly 33,000 workers if the spouses were eligible for insurance through their own employer.
"Since the Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide affordable coverage, we believe your spouse should be covered by their own employer," the UPS memo said.
Delta Air Lines, too, has pointed the finger at Obamacare, charging it will cost the company an extra $100 million in 2014. ln a letter to Obama administration officials, Robert Kight, Delta's senior vice president for global human resources, said part of that is normal medical inflation and the phase-out of an assistance program tied to the health-care law. But a large proportion comes from various fees and costs associated with the implementation of the law, he wrote.
For example, an annual fee of $63 per "covered participant" would cost Delta—with about 160,000 enrolled active and retired employees and their family members—more than $10 million in 2014, Kight noted.
Business is not the only sector hit by the health-care reform. The University of Virginia said it would no longer provide spousal coverage.
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The university also blamed the cost of health-care reform as a reason for its decision. "Provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act are projected to add $7.3 million to the cost of the University health plan in 2014 alone," it said in a statement.
This escalation in costs predates the current administration by more than a decade, however, and new data show that the rate of increase has slowed, due in part to corporate wellness initiatives that could be undermined by providing less-generous benefits.
Ania Kransiewska, a senior director at the Corporate Executive Board Company, said she did not want to downplay the challenge companies have, but "we have seen this before UPS and before the Affordable Care Act.
"Costs were going up by such a high amount anyway. … The Affordable Care Act costs are just icing on the cake," she said. "Most companies, even if they were to repeal this legislation tomorrow, would still have this cost problem."