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Consortium targets uninsured workers

Part-time workers, contractors, and early retirees who usually wouldn't qualify for corporate health insurance could get coverage under a plan unveiled yesterday 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 & 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 is scaled-down and won't be subsidized by the companies, said Jeff McGuiness, the consortium's executive director.

McGuiness said the companies are hoping to enroll several hundred thousand of the 3 million people eligible.

Two of the health plans are major medical policies with high deductibles -- $2,000 for a single in one, and $1,100 in the other. One of the other plans covers 80 percent of the cost of an office visit, leaving the patient to pay the rest.

The companies hope that as consumers begin writing healthcare 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 healthcare 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.

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