Originally created 02/28/01

State workers lose Aetna health plans



Aetna U.S. Healthcare will stop offering health insurance to state employees in the Augusta area starting July 1, leaving 536 government workers in search of new coverage.

The employee benefits company notified the state Department of Community Health recently that it would no longer cover workers in the Augusta and Macon markets.

Aetna will continue offering group health coverage to some 40,000 private-sector employees in Augusta. The company would not comment on the reasons for discontinuing its plan for government workers.

"We are not able to comment on active accounts. We are currently in negotiations," company spokesman Rob Kremer said.

The move comes as financially troubled Aetna faces increasingly tough negotiations from doctors and hospitals who are demanding higher payments nationwide.

"HMOs are not giving in like they used to," Scott Wayne, a consultant for Chicago-based William M. Mercer Inc., told Reuters news service. "Health plans are consolidating and don't care as much about membership (growth) as they do about earnings."

Affected employees in the Augusta area range from secretaries to teachers, and are spread across Richmond, Columbia, Burke, Jefferson and Lincoln counties. Combined, the employees have 712 dependents on the plan.

Human resource officials at some agencies have been informed of Aetna's pullout, but the state has not yet sent notification to all affected employees.

Employees whose Aetna coverage is ending will be able to join one of five other state plans when open enrollment begins in April, said Martin Smith, spokesman for the state Department of Community Health.

Two of the plans are Blue Choice HMO options, through Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Georgia; two are preferred provider organization options offered through an Emory University-Promina joint venture; the other is the state's own high-option indemnity plan.

"They will have an entire month to make a decision on what new coverage they want, and there's a good chance they could be paying less," Mr. Smith said.

Aside from the indemnity plan, Aetna's HMO plan was the most expensive in the state's menu of employee benefits, with monthly premiums of $56.86 for a single person and $166 for a family.

It also was one of the least popular. For example, of the 192 full-time employees eligible for benefits at Augusta Technical College, only 11 are covered by the Aetna plan.

"Most of our employees are with the Blue Choice plan," Augusta Tech President Terry Elam said.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or bized@augustachronicle.com.

By the numbers

  • The number of people affected by Aetna U.S. Healthcare's move to stop offering health insurance to state employees in the Augusta area starting July 1:
  • Government workers: 536
  • Dependents: 712