Aetna to prod vendors to offer insurance

May 5, 2008 5:37:47 PM PDT
Aetna Inc. announced Thursday it will begin requiring its more than 1,300 vendors to provide employees with health insurance.Chief Executive Ronald Williams said the Hartford-based health insurer sees "both an opportunity and an obligation" to help reduce the number of uninsured workers.

"We expect nothing less from the companies that do business with Aetna," he said in a letter to shareholders in the company's annual report.

Aetna has set a goal of at least 80 percent of its vendors offering benefits by 2010 and all vendors offering benefits by 2011. Vendors supply Aetna with food, design work, cleaning services, paper and other products and services.

Aetna will not spell out what type of health care plan its vendors should have, said Aetna spokeswoman Susan Millerick.

"This is not about building up our membership. It's about reducing the number of uninsured," she said. "The goal is not to be in any way punitive. The goal is to find out where the gaps are and work with vendors on how to close them."

As a first step, the company will send letters to suppliers and vendors in the coming weeks seeking information about benefits that vendors offer to employees.

"We want to find out who they are, where they are, what's possible," Millerick said.

Most of Aetna's vendors are large companies that offer health insurance, but between 5 percent and 10 percent of vendors are small businesses that most likely do not provide health benefits to their employees, she said.

Ensuring that 80 percent of vendors offering benefits by 2010 and all vendors providing health insurance by 2011 are reasonable goals, Millerick said.

Because cost is likely a major reason why small businesses do not offer health insurance, Aetna will inform companies about lower-cost alternatives such as high-deductible health plans, insurance pools or "mandate-light" insurance plans, she said.

"We're wading in. We don't have all the details fleshed out on how this will work," Millerick said.