UnitedHealthcare has added hospital indemnity protection plans to help employees offset out-of-pocket medical expenses following a hospitalization.

Employers in 45 states can offer the plans to employees and can choose whether they want to contribute to it as a benefit. The payout, which ranges from $700 to more than $5,000, depends on how much money is contributed. While the cost is a “floating average,” UnitedHealthcare wants to give employees some flexibility in covering unexpected costs, says Gary Harger, vice president of supplemental health at UnitedHealthcare Specialty Benefits.

The benefit, which can be purchased as a standalone product for employers not medically insured by UnitedHealthcare, will be applied to hospital and intensive care unit coverage, emergency room visits, lodging and transportation, among other costs.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

The company declined to comment on the cost to employer’s for offering this benefit. Unitedhealthcare noted that the plan can be modeled as a joint contribution between employees and employers or solely as an employee-contributed benefit.

The average cost of a hospital stay — including ambulance transportation — exceeds $11,000, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. And with the proliferation of high deductible health plans, more than 500 employers offer hospital indemnity coverage as an ancillary benefit, according to the Mercer National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans.

See also: Cigna, Aflac rolling out new group hospital indemnity plans

“This product is really in response to continued market demand for solutions for employees and employers for out-of-pocket costs and hospital stays,” says Tom Wiffler, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Specialty Benefits. “We feel that the hospital indemnity protection plan is another example of how employees can plan for and receive benefits when combined with the high deductible health plan.”

Employers who use UnitedHealthcare for both its medical and hospital indemnity insurance will receive an additional benefit: Employees will not be required to fill out a claim.

“We have the ability to see the claim and initiate the payment,” says Wiffler.

The company expects to introduce the new capability in January and hopes to operate in all 50 states by 2018.

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