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Firms to offer health plans to many uninsured workers

Associated Press

Part-time workers, contractors, and early retirees who usually wouldn’t qualify for corporate health insurance could get coverage under a plan announced Thursday by a consortium of dozens of large companies.

The HR Policy Association said about 25 companies, including Ford Motor Co., International Business Machines Corp., and Sears Roebuck and Co. planned to offer the coverage.

Workers would be offered a choice of six levels of benefits, from a $4.41-a-month discount card to full insurance policies. UnitedHealth Group Inc. is providing four of the plans and said it expects to begin enrolling customers on Sept. 1.

Companies often pay for much of full-time workers’ coverage. They can be reluctant to add part-time workers or contractors because of the expense. The new insurance announced Thursday is scaled-down and won’t be subsidized by the companies, said Jeff McGuiness, the consortium’s executive director.

The companies hope that as consumers begin writing health care checks they will also put pressure on health providers to lower costs, said Greg A. Lee, vice president for human resources at Sears and chairman of the coalition that came up with the insurance plan.

Lee called rising costs “a health care crisis.”

“This is just a start. This is not a panacea,” he said.

Lee said about 100,000 part-time Sears workers will be offered the coverage.

UnitedHealth Group of Minnetonka, Minn. will offer the four cheapest plans, with Humana Inc. and Cigna Corp. handling the major-medical policies.

The premiums will vary. A 28-year-old man in Phoenix would pay about $100 a month for coverage of scheduled inpatient and outpatient visits and hospitalization, according to an example given by the coalition. A 38-year-old woman in Chicago would pay $166.59 a month for the same insurance if she included maternity coverage, or $395 a month for a major medical policy.

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