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Kroger drops health coverage of working spouses

Add The Kroger Co. to the list of major area employers that have stopped providing health insurance coverage to employees’ spouses who are eligible for insurance through their employers.

Kroger will continue to cover spouses who do not have access to a health plan, or don’t have access to a health plan that is compliant with federal health reform, said Jennifer Lien, spokeswoman for the Cincinnati-based grocery company.

The change affects employees of Kroger’s 108 Cincinnati/Dayton Division stores, which includes stores in Springfield and Butler County. A total approximately 17,700 local workers are covered by a new merged labor contract approved Tuesday by voting union members, in which the changes to the health plan were spelled out.

“We will continue to provide health coverage for current eligible spouses if they don’t have coverage through their own employment,” Lien said.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75 represents Kroger store employees in the region.

“It’s really an effort to make sure members of their family still have access to affordable health care,” said Brigid Kelly, spokeswoman for UFCW Local 75.

Other companies excluding working spouses from coverage include package delivery company United Parcel Service Inc., impacting regional UPS workers in West Carrollton and Sharonville; Dayton-area hospital system Premier Health; and crane equipment manufacturer Konecranes, impacting workers in Franklin and Springfield.

The new four-year labor agreement covering Kroger employees in the company’s Cincinnati/Dayton Division is the first contract negotiated after federal health reform was implemented, officials said. It also merged for the first time previously separate Cincinnati and Dayton-area contracts.

“Companies are facing rising health care costs and must make some tough decisions in light of that reality,” James Haubrock, shareholder and chairman of employee benefit plan services for regional public accounting firm Clark Schaefer Hackett, previously told this news outlet.

“They have to balance their desire to manage costs, their need to attract and retain a high-quality labor force, and the requirement to comply with the (Affordable Care Act). Some employers will see eliminating coverage for spouses as a viable option to meet those competing needs,” Haubrock said in a 2013 interview.

The federal Affordable Care Act does not require employers to cover spouses or domestic partners, Haubrock said.

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