As Some Companies Turn to Health Exchanges, G.E. Seeks a New Path

Although the new federal health care law is designed to help people buying individual policies, even people with employer-provided policies are beginning to see changes in their coverage as companies rethink health care for their workers, discontinuing it in a few cases and redesigning it in many others. They are motivated by a need to rein in health care costs, which continue to rise faster than overall inflation, but the federal health care law is also changing how some view their obligations to their employees.

Some major firms, like Walgreen, the drugstore chain, are giving those who qualify money to buy insurance on a private health exchange. Aon Hewitt, a benefits consultant that will oversee health plans on Walgreen’s behalf, said 18 large employers had signed up so far, including Sears and Darden Restaurants.

But here in Cincinnati, General Electric is taking the opposite approach.

One of the largest employers in the nation, it spends more than $2 billion a year offering coverage to 500,000 employees and retirees and their families. And it is using its considerable clout in places like this — where its giant aviation business gives it a major presence — to work directly with doctors and hospitals to improve care and reduce costs.

“I don’t know anybody who isn’t trying almost everything,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, which represents employers providing benefits. “We’re going to see a lot of activity in the next couple of years.”

Over the last few years, G.E. has pushed for the creation of so-called medical homes, in which an individual medical practice closely coordinates a patient’s care by having access to all of the patient’s medical records.

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