Bell Atlantic Corp., searching for ways to curb soaring health-care costs, plans to announce today that it will start a new managed health-care program next April for the 12,000 Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Cos. employees in the Washington and Baltimore areas.
The new program is designed to reduce health-care costs by limiting access to doctors and hospitals for employees who do not want to pay part of their own medical costs.
The program, agreed to last year in contract negotiations with the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is part of a growing trend among major corporations to try and control costs by restricting access to medical facilities and providers.
Leaders of the telecommunications industry, including its unions, are scheduled to meet Oct. 11 to discuss the possibility of forming a managed-care network covering the 2.5 million employees of the telecommunications industry. GTE Corp. called the meeting and the participants range in size from the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. down to the Alltell Co. of Hudson, Ohio.
Because their industry, particularly telephone companies, is so far-flung and has so many employees, telecommunications executives hope they can muster enough economic clout to curb rising doctor and hospital fees.
In announcing its new managed-care program, Bell Atlantic also said it had signed a three-year contract with Prudential Insurance Co. to run the program. Don Bezuyen, an assistant vice president in charge of Bell Atlantic's managed-care programs, said Prudential was picked because it already administers a number of managed-care contracts in areas where Bell Atlantic operates.
Prudential operates a managed-care program for Marriott Corp. and other smaller programs in the D.C. area.
Bell Atlantic estimates it will pay out more than $500 million in health-care benefits to its 53,000 nonmanagement employees over the life of the contract. Bezuyen said the program's goal is to slow the rise in health-care costs. "We don't expect to save a penny," he said. He would not say how much health-care costs have risen in recent years, only that the goal was to reduce the rate of increase to single-digit levels.
Under the Bell Atlantic program, Prudential will pick the doctors and hospitals who will provide treatment at specific fees negotiated with the insurance company. Bell Atlantic employees or their dependents will have all of their health-care costs paid if they go to a doctor or hospital that works with Prudential.
Bell Atlantic employees can still choose their own doctor or hospital, but it will cost them -- perhaps much more than is apparent under the company plan. Under their union contracts, nonmanagement employees who seek treatment outside the managed-care program will pay 20 percent of the bill and Bell Atlantic will pay the other 80 percent. But Bezuyen said the company will only pay 80 percent of the fee it would pay doctors or hospitals in the managed-care program, not 80 percent of any fee.
The program does allow some employees to maintain longstanding relationships with doctors such as obstetricians who are outside the plan and still participate in the managed-care network for other medical services.