Walgreens Drops Employee Health Insurance Coverage

Robert Jonathan

[Update: See the Walgreens response below]

Walgreens, the nation's largest drugstore chain, reportedly will no longer offer health insurance coverage to about 180,000 employees at its approximately 8,000 US stores. Going forward, workers will need to buy coverage on so-called healthcare exchanges with an employer-provided subsidy.

The company apparently attributed the major change to its benefits package to healthcare cost increases as well as Obamacare, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Healthcare exchanges or marketplaces are supposed to be up in running as of October 1 under Obamacare, a.k.a. the Affordable Care Act.

During an August 2009 town hall meeting, President Obama promised that "If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan."

Under the new Walgreens policy, "the firm will pay a fixed amount for employees to select coverage options in a private insurance exchange run by Aon Hewitt, a consulting unit of Aon PLC. The exchange will offer up to 25 different plans in some states."

According to a Walgreens exec, "I think the only way to drive down costs in the health care space is to have the consumer buying the health care be knowledgeable and educated and understand what they are buying."

To date, however, many state healthcare exchanges don't yet exist or are behind schedule in ramping up, prompting one US Senator to describe the situation as a huge train wreck. At least 13 state attorneys general and other officials have warned about the possibility of fraud and identity theft associated with the healthcare exchanges.

Earlier this week, news emerged that Obamacare has reportedly convinced grocery store chain Trader Joe's to end its generous health insurance coverage for its part-time workforce. Anyone working less than 30 hours a week who receives Trader Joe's health coverage will need to find a new plan from the healthcare exchanges or marketplaces. The fast-food industry and other business groups are currently lobbying Congress to redefine the Obamacare definition of full-time work to 40 hours rather than 30.

Added: Walgreens responds: Michael Polzin, a VP of corporate communications for the Walgreen Co., contacted The Inquisitr with the following clarifications about the company's health insurance coverage. Mr Polzin explained that "Actually, we will continue to provide employer-sponsored health insurance to our employees, as we do today. The only change is that today, the company makes two health plans it has chosen to be available to employees. In 2014, we will give employees access to a private corporate health exchange that will provide them with up to 25 different options for health insurance." He added that Walgreens will continue to offer health insurance coverage through a private corporate healthcare exchange and that the amount of the employer-provided subsidy will be the same in 2014 as it was in 2013. He also underscored that the private exchange run by Aon Hewitt and being used by Walgreens is separate from the Obamacare public exchanges formed for individuals and that the status of the state healthcare exchanges is irrelevant to the Walgreens' corporate exchange "because they are two completely and separate and different things" and not connected in any way. Further information on the Walgreens private corporate healthcare exchange is contained in a press release from the Walgreens newsroom.