08162017Headline:

More employers send workers to find their own health insurance

The employer’s contribution may cover the entire premium or a smaller slice of it, depending on the coverage that the worker choses. A young, healthy, single worker, for instance, may pick a plan that balances a smaller premium with a higher deductible, which is the annual out-of-pocket amount a patient pays before most of his or her coverage kicks in.

The plans are an attractive option for companies that want more predictable health care costs or more choices for their workers.

Neither Sears nor Darden would say how much they’re planning to give employees so that they can buy health insurance. Sears said 90,000 of its employees will be eligible for its new approach, and they will have 15 choices for health insurance instead of about four.

Darden, which has 45,000 full-time employees, said its workers will be able to go online and pick from five medical plans, four dental plans and three that provide vision coverage. The Orlando, Fla., company had previously just offered one health insurance plan.

The company said that the sum Darden will give workers to cover costs for their insurance will rise as health care costs climb. Ultimately, it said workers will have about the same out-of-pocket costs that they currently have for about the same level of coverage — but they’ll have more flexibility.

“One of the things (employees) asked for was more choice in their health care,” says Ron DeFeo, a spokesman for Darden. “As we looked for a way to do it, this was the best option.”

The plans can be a good option for smaller businesses as well. Dick Bernstein owns Security Auto Loans Inc., a New Hope, Minn., subprime auto loan provider with about 40 employees. He wanted to offer health insurance to attract and keep workers. But other small business owners warned him that premiums in more traditional plans could soar as high as 20 percent annually.

So in January, Bernstein began offering his employees a defined contribution plan through Bloom Health. Bernstein’s company gave each worker $ 3,000 and sent them to a secure website run by Bloom to pick a plan. On the site, workers are asked about 35 questions to pin down their health needs, financial situation and comfort with risk.

For example, the website offers a hypothetical scenario: A total of $ 1,500 in medical bills due in 60 days arrives. It then asks if the worker has the money to pay for it. The question is intended to determine whether a high-deductible plan would make sense for that employee.

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