AETNA: A ‘No Frills’ Insurance Program for the Uninsured
Aetna Inc. is on the verge of launching "Affordable HealthChoices," a new, low-cost, employer-based health insurance initiative aimed at uninsured workers. But some consumer advocates are already charging that the new plan's "bare-bones" benefits will do little to protect workers in the event of catastrophic illness. Depending upon which of three HealthChoices options is chosen, workers' monthly premiums would range from $46 to $91 for a single person, and from $156 to $275 for families. Employers would have the option of paying part or all of the premium. One of the program's three plans would offer hospital coverage of $750 per day for the first three days; $350 a day for the next week; and a mere $100 a day after that. The plan would cover eight doctor visits per year at $50 per visit and up to six emergency-room visits, also at $50 each. Aetna President Michael Cardillo said, "We feel this is a beginning to try to address a very dramatic problem."
Not Good Enough, or Better than Nothing?
The Wall Street Journal reports that Aetna's announcement drew criticism that "consumers could end up paying substantial amounts out of pocket if they rack up hefty medical bills beyond the strict limits of their policies." Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack "said that bare-bones policies insurers have offered in the past have proven unpopular with some employers and workers because they don't provide enough of a safety net when disaster strikes." He said, "The bottom line for anybody who buys this is, 'Don't get sick,' because if you get sick you are going to wind up with enormous bills." Cardillo countered that "a program with limited benefits is far better than no coverage at all" (Jeffrey, 5/4). The AP/Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reports that an additional "concern is that some employers might drop more extensive polic[ies] and fall back to the new less expensive option." Aetna spokesperson Jill Griffiths said, "In a very tight job market that is unlikely to happen. We think employers will want to offer the most comprehensive benefit package they can." The plans have been approved in Texas, Connecticut and the District of Columbia. Aetna hopes to obtain approval from regulators in 25 other states (Galewitz, 5/4).