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Limited-benefit plans can offer some health insurance coverage without the high premiums of major medical. Fleets and truckers are signing on.

A few years ago, most of the 2,500 owner-operators leased to Schneider National who didn’t have health coverage through a spouse or the government simply did without. Drivers who found participating in the carrier’s health insurance program too costlychose to roll the dice and hope they didn’t get sick or injured.

Then Schneider signed with its longtime financial services adviser, TrueNorth Cos., to offer a limited-benefits plan called TrueChoices. Since then, the portion of participating owner-operators rose from 1 percent to 11 percent.

TrueChoices offers drivers “something they are not able to have access to on their own,” says Shelley Sperberg, a Schneider spokeswoman.

The attraction of such offerings to uninsured owner-operators is premiums that are roughly 40 percent lower than traditional major medical coverage. The downside is that the policy holder is limited to select areas of coverage, such as prescriptions, dental care or primary care doctor visits.

Limited-benefit plans work like the food selections at a cafeteria. Tailored to an individual’s priorities, they forego wide-net health coverage. Some also offer disability and life insurance.

Also known as indemnity plans or supplementals, limited-benefit plans offer coverage to those who view large-scale plans as overly expensive or simply unnecessary. A single male trucker in his 30s doesn’t need pregnancy coverage, and if he doesn’t smoke and has no family history of cancer, he may not worry about that coverage, either. With limited benefits, he can pick coverage he does need: perhaps accident, surgical and catastrophic illnesses, but not short-term disability or term life.

David Lindsey launched USNow in the mid-1990s expressly to sell limited-benefit insurance. “Everyone wants health insurance, but not everyone can afford it,” says Lindsey, who counts CRST among his trucking clients. “If you can’t afford it, you can’t get it. We’re the next best thing in the marketplace.”

Russell Fullingim, a former driver who now runs Truckers’ Financial Service in California, says more than half his clients don’t have health insurance. Many can’t afford it, or can’t get it because of lack of access or severe pre-existing conditions. Some simply don’t want to pay for it.

One driver took the risk and lost big, Fullingim says. First his daughter broke a bone; then he was in nasty crash that resulted in serious injury. The combination financially ruined the man.

A survivor of a big-rig wreck that left him bedridden for three months, Fullingim insists that health insurance is not an option but a necessity. “It has to be done, just like paying for electricity,” he says. Otherwise, “They’re putting their family at risk.” Because they’re more affordable, limited-benefit plans can be a good option for truckers, he says.

The marketplace once looked down its nose at such plans. In the 1980s and 1990s, limited-health plans, then called “mini-medical plans,” had an ugly history. Many employers unknowingly signed their workers to wholly inadequate coverage in the name of cost savings.

Today’s limited-benefit plans are far different, offering coverage of a wide range of illnesses, Lindsey says. Even so, many of the plans state they are not designed as substitutes for basic health insurance or major medical coverage; others sell themselves as secondary plans behind basic HMO or PPO plans.

Not all insurance companies offer limited-benefit plans. Research as many companies as possible and read the details of each plan. In a pure “cafeteria plan,” you pick and choose exactly what benefits you want, which requires planning and homework to accurately compare costs.

You should be fully aware of all exclusions and restrictions, such as a curb on the number of doctor visits during a set time.

As with any service, satisfaction is not universal. RoadLink USA, an intermodal trucking and logistics company based in Chicago, is happy with its limited-benefit provider, but its previous provider was rife with problems, says Dan Whitacre, who directs RoadLinks’ benefits.

Enrollment at the 1,300-driver fleet is small, as most of its company drivers and owner-operators are insured through a spouse, the military or Medicaid, but the plan is still a good recruitment tool for those now paying upward of $1,300 a month in health premiums, Whitacre says. “They are struggling.”

Carriers such as this, with uninsured leased operators, prompted TrueChoice’s launch, says Mike Vogel of TrueNorth. “Some insurance is better than no insurance, and it’s affordable,” he says.


HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT PLAN
Limited-benefit plan prices and terms vary greatly by company, location, plan type and individual client. Some companies or plans may not be available in your area or the regions where you haul.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association does not offer a limited-benefit plan, but is reviewing options for doing so, says Brenda Smith, manager of OOIDA’s medical benefits group. That group does offer a package with occupational accident coverage, group life, dental, short-term disability, accidental death and dismemberment and prescription coverage.

Several resources offer unbiased help in selecting insurance carriers, including the Association of Health Insurance Advisors (www.ahia.net), the Insurance Information Institute (www.iii.org), MostChoice (www.mostchoicecom), HealthInsuranceFinders.com and Insurance.com. Yahoo! offers a health insurance guide at this site.

Following are some of the nation’s largest providers of limited-benefit plans:
AETNA. Its Affordable Health Choices Plan includes medical, prescription drug, dental, vision, term life, short-term disability and an in-hospital cash benefit. www.aetna.com

AFLAC. The Individual Guaranteed Renewable Benefits program offers supplemental insurance benefits that pay the client money during a medical crisis such as an accident. The program is generally sold to employers but paid for by employees, who can transfer the benefit to a new job. www.aflac.com

TRUENORTH COS. TrueChoices, a cafeteria-based plan, has two programs, Choice 500 and Choice 1000. These can cover in-patient hospital stays, surgical indemnity benefits, office visits, outpatient diagnostic X-rays and lab work, and prescriptions. Options include life, dental, vision, short-term disability, term life, even retirement programs. www.truenorthcompanies.com

USNOW. The company offers programs underwritten by Continental American Insurance, American General Assurance and Pan-American Life Insurance. Cafeteria offerings include insurance, a PPO network and health care discount services. Additional features include a single nationwide rate, a prescription drug plan and hospital admissions. USNow covers pregnancy and critical illnesses such as cancer, heart attack and major organ failure. www.usnow.com

WELLPOINT. It offers multiple limited-benefit plans through its subsidiaries or its licensing agreement with BlueCross BlueShield. One of the better known plans, launched
in California and now going nationwide, is Tonik. Originally geared toward otherwise uninsured “young invincibles” in their 20s, the program now is open to all. Tonik is popular mainly for its ease in signing up via the Internet. www.wellpoint.com

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