Nonunion Duke Energy retirees 65 and older will not receive health insurance coverage directly from the utility beginning Jan. 1, part of a growing trend by businesses to reduce costs.
The utility issued notices throughout the company over the past several days to tell retirees of the impending change.
If retirees age 65 or older and their eligible spouses and dependents who also are age 65 or older purchase individual medical, prescription drug, dental and vision coverage through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Co., they may be eligible for some "support" from Duke, the company said.
An eligible spouse or dependent who is not yet 65 will continue to have access to Duke's medical and prescription drug coverage options for 2014. Duke's current dental and vision coverage will no longer be available to spouses and dependents regardless of age after Dec. 31.
"Over time, the cost of Duke Energy's health coverage for retirees age 65 or older has escalated to a level where it is no longer price competitive with what is available in the individual health plan marketplace," the utility stated in its notice to retirees.
Duke said it will support Medicare-eligible retirees in their transition to the expanding individual health insurance market.
"This approach will provide retirees age 65 or older with multiple comprehensive coverage options and flexibility that will meet their needs in ways that cannot be provided through the current options available under Duke Energy's retiree health coverage plan," said Dave Scanzoni, a spokesman for the utility.
Scanzoni said the utility did not immediately know exactly how many people the policy change will affect in Florida, where Duke is the second-largest investor-owned utility with about 1.7 million customers.
Retirees from Duke Energy and its predecessor, Progress Energy, will join thousands of other retirees throughout the state whose companies have decided they will no longer cover them after the end of the year.
Employers have been increasingly shifting their former workers toward private health insurance exchanges for decades.
Private exchanges have existed for several years but only recently started catching on. They are separate from the public health insurance marketplace being created by the Affordable Care Act.
Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN, an organization that tracks Duke's policies and practices, called the move just another attempt by the utility to protect profits.
"It does look like more of that trend of favoring shareholders at the expense of employees and the public," Warren said.
Ivan Penn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2332.