Home Depot sends 20,000 part-timers to health care exchanges


Home Depot Inc., the world’s largest home improvement retailer, plans to end medical coverage for about 20,000 part-time employees and direct them to government-sponsored exchanges scheduled to open next month as companies revamp benefits to fit the Affordable Care Act.

Employees with fewer than 30 hours a week will no longer be offered limited liability medical coverage, Stephen Holmes, a spokesman, said Thursday by telephone. About 5 percent of Atlanta- based Home Depot’s 340,000 employees are enrolled in that plan.

United Parcel Service Inc., Trader Joe’s Co. and other employers have been cutting benefits ahead of next month’s roll- out of government exchanges that were designed to give uninsured Americans a chance to buy taxpayer-subsidized medical coverage. While the corporate scale-back could benefit low-wage employees who may find better options through Obamacare, it’s not what the law intended, said Robert Laszewski, an industry consultant.

“Obamacare is predicated on employers maintaining coverage,” Laszewski, who is based in Alexandria, Va., said by phone. “It’s supposed to pick up the relatively few people who can’t access health insurance because they’re self- employed or work for small employers who can’t afford it. The big guys were supposed to stay committed.”

The Affordable Care Act exchanges are scheduled to open Oct. 1 to sell policies that take effect Jan. 1.

Home Depot said it is maintaining coverage for full-time workers, though those people will pay more next year, reflecting an overall rise in the cost of health care. Whether part-timers pay more under the health law’s insurance marketplaces will depend on the type of plans they choose, Holmes said.

The company will continue offering part-time employees coverage for dental, vision, critical illness, disability and back-up dependent care, according to Holmes. The Affordable Care Act defines part-time workers as those working fewer than 30 hours a week. Holmes said Home Depot had already been using the 30-hour standard for defining part-time versus full-time work.

Trader Joe’s, the closely held grocery store chain, said last week it will end health benefits for part-time workers next year. Employees will get $500 to help them buy insurance elsewhere, the Monrovia, Calif.-based company said.

UPS is keeping workers on company plans though it said in August it would no longer provide benefits to employed spouses of 15,000 non-union workers. Atlanta-based UPS pointed out that those spouses must be offered coverage by their own companies under the health law.

The $1.3 trillion Affordable Care Act mandates that individuals obtain medical coverage starting next year and the majority of employers offer health plans starting in 2015 or pay fines.

Some companies that are maintaining employee coverage are finding ways to shift more of the responsibility and cost to their workers. Walgreen Co., the largest U.S. drugstore chain, has told 160,000 workers they must buy insurance through a private exchange rather than having the Deerfield, Ill.-based company arrange their coverage. Sears Holdings Corp. and Darden Restaurants Inc. also have made similar decisions.