As healthcare costs continue to squeeze budgets, employers are looking for ways to save money without alienating workers. And for one corporate giant, that means using the size of its workforce to negotiate directly with health systems.
Thousands of Boeing Co. employees in Charleston, S.C., and St. Louis will be offered an optional narrow-network plan next year, similar to one offered to 30,000 of Boeing's Seattle workers in January. Employees who choose the option pay less for premiums and nothing for generic drugs and primary-care office visits, but workers must seek care from a limited network of hospitals, doctors and laboratories.
Health systems in all three cities bid for the Boeing contracts, which the corporation negotiated directly with providers, an unusual move for a company. Employers typically rely on consultants or insurers to select, price and design employee insurance plans.
But experts say Boeing has the sophistication, resources and workforce to dictate its own terms, and health systems see clear benefits to winning its business. Boeing has “market share and volume,” said Donn Sorensen, president of Mercy's operations in eastern Missouri, where Boeing has roughly 13,000 workers eligible for narrow-network health plans next year.
Boeing's new contracts are with Mercy in St. Louis and the Roper St. Francis Health Alliance in Charleston, S.C. Its Seattle contract is with the Providence-Swedish Health Alliance.
The company employs about 16,800 workers in California, 5,000 in Pennsylvania and 4,000 in Texas, and also operates across other states.
Boeing's narrow-network offerings are limited to non-union employees as changes to health benefits must be negotiated under Boeing's union contracts. The International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, which represents Boeing factory workers, didn't respond to an interview request.