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Published: Thursday, 5/26/2005

Alternative health plan offered by Chrysler

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

After months of not being able to choose an alternative to traditional health insurance, local DaimlerChrysler AG hourly workers and early retirees will be able to get a managed-care option in July.

But the new option is not as flush as arrangements from previous years.

The alternative Medical Mutual of Ohio plan to be offered to several thousand northwest Ohio residents at Chrysler's Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant and a machining plant in Perrysburg Township will include deductibles and co-payments but no charges for premiums, said Lloyd Mahaffey, the United Auto Workers' regional director for Ohio.

Plan participants will pay a deductible of $150 for singles and $300 for families, and if they stay in Medical Mutual's network of health-care providers, will pay half the bill for office visits.

Under the traditional health insurance plan, Chrysler workers, retirees, and family members pay the full bill for office visits.

"People will have the option in lieu of the traditional insurance," Mr. Mahaffey said.

Years ago, though, Chrysler workers in northwest Ohio who went with alternative health-care plans didn't have to pay anything for health care and more recently had to shell out $10 for each office visit.

The changes, including the lack of an alternative to the traditional plan since January, have left workers such as Barbara Kosbab of Walbridge unhappy.

"We've had so many changes so fast and so many promises, some not kept," said Ms. Kosbab, who has worked at Toledo Jeep for nearly 12 years. "Quite honestly, I'm skeptical we will get anything at all."

Health care has become a hot issue for the Big Three, which spent $10 billion on it last year and will spend more this year as costs continue to rise. Under a long-standing agreement with the UAW, automakers don't have to offer a managed-care alternative to traditional health insurance if costs to the company are higher.

Chrysler workers and retirees in so-called preferred provider organizations, such as the one Medical Mutual will be offering, had to start paying annual deductibles of $100 and $1,000 in April, under an agreement reached with the UAW.

No changes were added for Chrysler workers and retirees in health-maintenance organizations, including those available to southeast Michigan residents at Toledo Jeep and elsewhere.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., meanwhile, have not reached similar arrangements with the UAW.

Chrysler workers and retirees living in northwest Ohio lost an option to traditional coverage when Medical Mutual ceased a plan at the end of last year that had been offered through the now defunct Family Health Plan of Toledo. Mr. Mahaffey said Chrysler and top UAW officials have since been able to negotiate an acceptable alternative.

Faced with bills for office visits under the traditional plan that they say have been as much as $200 for specialists, Chrysler workers and retirees have continued to complain about the lack of a managed-care alternative. Some have opted to put off going to a doctor; others, such as Ms. Kosbab, have paid $50 for a routine visit.

Ms. Kosbab said other workers represented by UAW Local 12 have better plans than those at Toledo Jeep, including her husband at Toth Industries Inc. in Toledo. Local 12 members there don't have to pay deductibles or premiums, and office visits are $10, although family members are not covered, she said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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