McDonald's `Mini-Med' Health Plans Probed by Senate

Senator Jay Rockefeller opened a probe into the limited benefit “mini-med” plans that McDonald’s Corp., the world’s largest restaurant chain, offers employees.

Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, asked Scott Beacham, chief executive officer of BCS Financial Corp., whether the company’s health offerings amount to a good deal for many of McDonald’s low-wage and hourly employees. Closely held BCS Financial, based in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, offers limited- benefit plans that cover 30,000 employees of McDonald’s, based about a mile away in Oak Brook, Illinois.

Mini-med programs are designed to offer a low-cost way to cover part-time employees with limited benefits. McDonald’s told the Obama administration it may re-evaluate the plans if it can’t get a waiver from new rules governing insurance products. The company said yesterday it will keep offering coverage, and the government has waived some of the new rules.

“The products BCS is selling to McDonald’s employees are not likely to protect them against the costs of a major health care episode,” Rockefeller said in his letter. “If this is the case, McDonald’s hourly wage workers are setting aside portions of their paychecks for an insurance product that may not be providing them a good value.”

Companies are seeking exemptions from two mandates of the health overhaul signed by President Barack Obama in March. One requires plans to spend at least 80 percent of member premiums on medical care. The other bans companies from capping yearly coverage for each worker.

Low-Wage Employees

The plans are helpful for companies with workforces that don’t make enough to afford coverage, or for which it might be prohibitively expensive to insure, said Daryl Richard, a spokesman for the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc., which offers limited benefit plans to about a dozen companies.

In his letter, Rockefeller asked BCS to provide information on how much of employee premiums actually go toward providing medical care. He also wants to know what limits the plans put on coverage, information about how extensively McDonald’s employees use the plans, and how the company sells the products to the McDonald’s workers. BCS has ties to Blue Cross & Blue Shield insurance plans, through members of its board, according to its website.

McDonald’s shares rose 41 cents, or less than a percent, to $74.92 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have climbed 32 percent in 12 months.

To contact the reporter on this story: Drew Armstrong in Washington at darmstrong17@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Adriel Bettelheim at abettelheim@bloomberg.net.

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