Walgreens shifting workers to private health exchanges - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Walgreens shifting workers to private health exchanges

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ATLANTA -

Walgreens has become the latest big company to send its workers shopping for their health insurance instead of providing a few choices under a corporate plan. The drug store chain says it will start giving employees a contribution toward the cost of their coverage.

The move is part of a growing trend from big companies to move more responsibility to employees to find health insurance.

Walgreens workers will get a set amount of money from the company and select from as many as 25 plans from private health exchanges instead of the usual three or four choices.

The change is aimed at making the company's health care costs more predictable. Workers not accustomed to insurance options will face the challenge of making the right decision for insurance coverage.

Warren Kingsley, employee benefits partner at the Atlanta law firm Arnall Golden Gregory, believes employees in many cases could benefit by the ability to tailor health plans to their own needs.

"Usually the informed consumer -- or a consumer that's spending their own money -- is a more careful shopper," said Kingsley.  "The risk, of course, is that the defined contribution may not go up each year as the costs of medical insurance go up."

Many people are taking a wait-and-see attitude about this emerging approach to employee health insurance.

"I think right now there's just so much unknown about Obamacare and about the health exchanges," said Kevin Cronin.

It remains to be seen how fast the new coverage plan expands, but the trend is expected to continue with the advent of the new federal health care law.

"The amount of effort that goes into trying to comply with this law is so stupendous, I think that it's a natural reaction for large and small businesses to turn to alternatives," Kingsley said.

Sears is among the companies that have already moved to the private exchange plan. Many other large companies are considering it.

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