It's hard to attract the best employees if you don't offer any health benefits. But with insurance costs soaring, it's difficult to jump into the health-plan game.
One solution: Offer coverage through a limited health insurance plan (often called a "mini-med" policy). For about one-third the cost of major medical programs, mini-meds cover some of your employees' basic health care costs, including emergency accidents, hospital confinement or surgical benefits.
Use of mini-meds is growing 20 percent a year. Reason: More employers are switching from expensive policies, or they're looking to add cheaper insurance alternatives for part-timers. Employers offering the plans include Lowe's, McDonald's and Wal-Mart.
How mini-meds work: Employees pay all or nearly all of the premium cost. Mini-meds don't cover all areas of health care. Instead, the policies defray parts of the cost in selected treatment areas.
Weekly premiums for basic coverage start about $10 a week for individuals and less than $50 a week for a family of four. The co-pay for doctor visits is $10 to $15. Coverage generally includes a $1,000 annual basic benefit plus a yearly deductible ranging from $50 to $150.
Upside: The plans are inexpensive and encourage employees to seek preventive care.
Downsides: Waiting periods exist for treatment of pre-existing conditions. The plans offer little coverage for catastrophic illnesses. And if you offer a more traditional plan to full-time workers, you'd create two drastically different health plans in your workplace, which could hurt morale.
Companies offering limited benefit policies include Allstate, www.allstate.com; Safeco, www.safeco.com; CNA Financial, www.cna.com; and Star HRG, www.starbridge.com.
Another option: health care "discount cards," which offer discounts on various medical expenses that card companies have negotiated with provider networks. (See 5/19/03 issue.)