McDonald’s defends mini-med insurance

By Dow Jones Newswires-Wall Street Journal
Posted Dec. 2, 2010 at 6:27 a.m.

Senate Democrats accused McDonald’s Corp. of offering hourly workers a bad deal on health insurance, prompting a strong defense from a top McDonald’s executive who disclosed fresh details about the chain’s benefits. The exchanges came at a hearing Wednesday that was part of a Senate committee investigation into “mini-med” insurance policies, a type of limited health plan favored by retailers and restaurant chains.

The investigation came after McDonald’s warned federal regulators the company could drop its health-insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waived a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul dictating how much its insurance carrier spends on medical care.

The hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation revealed that McDonald’s insurance plan actually falls within the new health-law rules on the percentage of revenue insurance carriers spend on care. Under the law, most insurers must spend between 80 percent and 85 percent of their revenue on medical care, a formula known as a “medical loss ratio.” Mini-med providers, however, only need to meet half that threshold thanks to a recent tweak in the regulations by the Obama administration.

Rich Floersch, McDonald’s executive vice president for human resources, told the panel that the medical loss ratio for McDonald’s store workers’ insurance plan has ranged from 78 percent to 91 percent during the past five years, with the most recent year having a ratio of 86 percent. He didn’t address why the chain pushed for an exemption. A McDonald’s representative said the company’s insurance carrier would have had to meet the 85 percent threshold.

Floersch said that most restaurant workers select a plan with a $2,000 annual benefit payout limit — a policy that will cost workers $710 a year in 2011, according to Senate committee research. In addition to two other limited plans with annual benefit caps of $5,000 and $10,000, the chain also offers hourly workers what he called a “comprehensive” plan that has higher benefits and premiums than the limited plans, he said.

About 90 percent of restaurant workers who have the policies don’t reach these annual benefit limits, Floersch said. Those who do still get access to benefits of the plan, including reduced prices for prescription drugs and other discounts from health-care providers.

He also told the panel that the chain pays between 10 percent and 20 percent of hourly store workers’ insurance premiums, while it pays 80 percent for most corporate employees and restaurant managers. The bottom-level health plan for corporate workers costs between $682 and $920 a year and has no annual cap on benefit payouts, according to committee research.

“We have worked hard to find affordable health insurance plans that meet the needs of our restaurant employees,” Floersch told the panel.

Democrats on the committee blasted McDonald’s for offering what they called policies that give workers a false sense of protection from expensive illnesses. Some hearing participants argued workers would be better with no coverage at all since they could redirect their premiums to spending on their medical care.

Of the 10 percent of workers who hit their annual limit, “Why can you let them go, let them suffer?” asked Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.), chairman of the committee. Floersch said: “We don’t look at the 90 percent different than the 10 percent.” He said workers are amply notified that the plan is limited.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the panel’s top Republican, said the health law’s higher benefit cap of $750,000 a year — waived for McDonald’s and other mini-med providers — would make the plans prohibitively expensive for low-wage workers.


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One comment:

  1. bob Dec. 2, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Dear Senator,

    Let me point out that unlike the government, most businesses can only afford expenses in line with their revenues and can not spend an exhorbitant percentage of that revenue on one non-revenue producing area.

    Given you comments I can understand how the US Government is running trillion dollar deficits.

    Get your head on straight.

    Your loving citizen,