WellPoint cuts workers health benefits

(CINCINNATI.COM)   INDIANAPOLIS – WellPoint Inc., the largest U.S. insurer, dismissed a “small number” of workers last week and announced cuts to employee health benefits Friday, in its latest attempt to deal with the recession’s toll on enrollment.

WellPoint eliminated the positions last week and expects to let more go before year’s end, though the number will be “relatively small,” Kristin Binns, a spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview. The company will also raise deductibles and premiums for some of its employee health benefits, the Indianapolis-based insurer told workers in a memo obtained by Bloomberg.

In the memo from Randy Brown, WellPoint’s chief human resources officer, the company said it would lower its contribution toward worker premiums and raise deductibles in two of its three benefit plans. “Your cost per paycheck will probably increase,” the memo said.

WellPoint has 42,000 employees, including hundreds in East Walnut Hills, Mason and West Chester.

WellPoint, like its competitors, has seen health plan enrollment shrink this year as employers cut jobs and benefits amid the recession. Chief Executive Officer Angela Braly cut 1,500 positions in January, and last week the company said it was reviewing its “size and skills” to improve efficiency.

The job cuts are “really just an ongoing effort for us to cut costs and run more efficiently,” Binns said, calling the changes “economy-driven.”

The insurer also capped the number of paid days off workers can bank for future use at 23 days. Previously, workers with more than 10 years service could accrue more, the memo said.

“Like many employers in today’s economic environment, we are looking at all aspects of our business,” including benefits, “and making adjustments to ensure we can continue to operate competitively in the future,” Brown wrote.

WellPoint covers 82 percent of its workers’ health costs, above the national average, Binns said. The plans also offer wellness and preventive care at no cost, as well as lower deductibles if workers undergo health assessments or join a “health coaching” program.

WellPoint is the largest U.S. health insurer based on enrollment in its medical plans. UnitedHealth Group Inc., based in Minnetonka, Minn., is the largest based on sales.


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