by Spencer Woodman
VICE, January 8th, 2015
For the past few years, American health insurance companies have been hard at work studying a loophole in the Affordable Care Act—a.k.a. Obamacare—that allows corporations to evade the law’s effort to keep people from going broke when paying for basic medical services. Insurers like UnitedHealthcare have created insurance packages known as “skinny plans” that give employers the ability to peddle strikingly shoddy health insurance to their workers. Existing in a regulatory gap that only applies to large businesses, these insurance plans do not cover basic health necessities like hospitalization or emergency-room care but still allow employers to avoid the largest automatic fine under Obamacare, which, beginning this month, requires large businesses to provide insurance to all full-time employees.
Skinny plans often cover only preventative care like going to see the doctor for a routine check-up—hardly the type of medical attention that racks up huge bills.
One "Webinar" presentation delivered in part by UnitedHealthcare—a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, America's largest health-insurance provider—marvels almost incredulously at the loophole. Employers "can offer preventive-care benefits like doctors' visits and generic drugs without offering much in the way of care," states a portion of the joint presentation given by Crawford Advisors, a benefits consulting and brokerage firm, "and they are considered to be offering insurance coverage." The Crawford Advisors presentation is explicit about the fact that these plans can be marketed to low-wage workers who might take the skinny plans because of their price. In some cases, low-wage workers who take these skinny plans will be passing up either subsidized insurance on state insurance exchanges or more robust employer-sponsored insurance that is considered affordable by the standards of the new health law.