The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

November 18, 2012

More American workers to pick their insurance

NORMAN — For some American workers, picking the right health insurance is becoming more like hunting for the perfect business suit: It takes some shopping around to find a good fit and avoid sticker shock.

In a major shift in employer-sponsored health insurance coverage, companies such as Sears Holdings Corp. and Darden Restaurants Inc. are giving employees a fixed amount of money and allowing them to choose their own coverage based on their individual needs.

The approach, called defined contribution health insurance, contrasts to the decades-old practice by most U.S. employers of offering workers a one-size-fits-all plan with benefits they may not want. It also means American workers who’ve grown accustomed to having their benefits chosen for them could wind up with bigger bills and inadequate coverage if they don’t choose wisely.

“It’s a big, big change in the nature of what it means to have health insurance,” says David Cutler, a Harvard University economist.

Until now, defined contribution health insurance plans have been largely limited to small businesses and retirees. But more employers are considering them as a way to control their rising health care costs.

After all, the average annual premium — or cost for insurance coverage — for an employer-sponsored family health plan has almost doubled in the past decade to nearly $16,000, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. And companies generally foot at least 70 percent of that bill.

But now the plans are catching on. Benefits consultant Mercer found that 45 percent of the 2,809 employers it surveyed earlier this year are either using or are considering a defined contribution approach.

As a result, insurers and benefits companies are rolling out online exchanges where workers can buy insurance coverage roughly similar to how they buy plane tickets on travel websites. The private sites are similar to the public online exchanges that will enable people to buy insurance starting late next year as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Nation/World
  • Rebels release train with bodies from jet

    HRABOVE, Ukraine — Bowing to international pressure, pro-Moscow separatists released a train packed with bodies and handed over the black boxes from the downed Malaysia Airlines plane, four days after it plunged into rebel-held eastern ...

    July 22, 2014

  • Gaza death toll passes 560

    GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A high-level attempt by the U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state to end deadly Israel-Hamas fighting was off to a rough start Monday: Gaza’s Hamas rulers signaled they won’t agree to an unconditional ...

    July 22, 2014

  • Perry sending Guard troops to border

    AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Rick Perry is deploying up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border over the next month to combat what he said Monday were criminals exploiting a surge of children pouring into the U.S. illegally. ...

    July 22, 2014

  • Better weather to aid in fire fight

    SPOKANE, Wash. — Calmer winds and cooler temperatures were allowing firefighters to go on the offensive Monday against a destructive wildfire that has charred hundreds of square miles of terrain in Washington State and is the largest in ...

    July 22, 2014

  • Gay, transgender workers gain U.S. bias protection

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday ordered employment protection for gay and transgender employees who work for the federal government or for companies holding federal contracts, telling advocates he embraced the “irrefutable ...

    July 22, 2014

  • Senate race zeroes in on metro Atlanta, north Ga.

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Neither Republican running in Georgia’s closely watched Senate race has a natural advantage in metro Atlanta, where the state’s most populous area and a ring of northern exurbs are serving as the key battleground ...

    July 21, 2014

  • How a flood of kids upset immigration debate

    WASHINGTON — The nation’s yearlong deliberation over immigration has taken a head-snapping detour....

    July 21, 2014

  • Kerry makes bid for cease-fire

    WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry is heading back to the Middle East as the Obama administration attempts to bolster regional efforts to reach a ceasefire and sharpens its criticism of Hamas in its conflict with Israel....

    July 21, 2014

  • U.S. outlines case against Russia on downed plane

    WASHINGTON — Video of a rocket launcher, one surface-to-air missile missing, leaving the likely launch site. Imagery showing the firing. Calls claiming credit for the strike. Recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site....

    July 21, 2014

  • Top school may benefit health

    CHICAGO — Disadvantaged teens may get more than an academic boost by attending top-notch high schools — their health may also benefit, a study suggests. Risky health behavior including binge-drinking, unsafe sex and use of hard drugs was ...

    July 21, 2014