The HR Policy Association, which represents 250 of the largest employers in the U.S., on Saturday announced the Retiree Health Access program, which is intended to provide affordable health coverage for former employees age 55 to 64, the New York Times reports. According to the Times, "layoffs, employee buyouts and sending jobs offshore" have contributed to a pool of approximately 800,000 early retirees who no longer are eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance, too young to apply for Medicare and unable to afford private insurance.

Under the Retiree Health Access program, no retiree could be turned down for coverage, regardless of prior medical conditions. Specifics of the plans will vary by employer, but a typical plan will have an annual deductible between $500 and $1,100 and a monthly premium between $400 and $1,200, depending on how much an employer chooses to contribute.

The policies will be administered by Aetna, which has agreed to participate because the employee pool created will be large enough to spread the risks and costs of insuring a demographic that is susceptible to major medical problems, the Times reports. Aetna will use "medical management" programs to advise and track the treatment of people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart failure, Aetna Executive Vice President Mark Bertolini said. The program will in "many cases cost relatively little for employers," according to the Times.

During the program's first year in 2008, no more than 20 HR Policy members are expected to participate, but other companies are expected to join in 2009, HR Policy President Jeffery McGuiness said. The group acknowledges that the program "can probably not help more than a small fraction of the 800,000 pre-Medicare retirees currently without insurance," the Times reports. However, Aetna CEO Ronald Williams said HR Policy hopes the program will "shape and influence" national discussions about health care reform (Freudenheim, New York Times, 6/23).

"Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork/dailyreports/healthpolicy. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation . © 2005 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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