UPDATE 1-Home Depot to tap health insurance exchanges for part-timers

Thu Sep 19, 2013 5:59pm EDT

Sept 19 (Reuters) - Home Depot Inc is shifting medical coverage for part-time workers to new public marketplace exchanges ahead of new benefits requirements under the U.S. Affordable Care Act, a spokesman said on Thursday.

The world's largest home improvement retail chain announced its move shortly after a similar announcement from Trader Joe's Co, a popular privately held grocery chain.

Home Depot's change would affect roughly 20,000 part-time workers who previously had chosen the limited liability medical plan the company offered, spokesman Stephen Holmes said.

After Dec. 31, companies can no longer offer those plans under the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

"We're going to shift them over to the public exchanges, where there are more options," Holmes said.

The public exchanges being set up under ACA will allow individuals to buy government-subsidized healthcare based on income. Enrollment begins on Oct. 1.

Until now, many restaurants and retailers offered workers limited liability plans that often provided less than $5,000 in coverage. Experts have said exchanges would provide more comprehensive coverage that may not cost more because government tax credits will help some workers offset premiums.

Some employers are opting to offer coverage through private health insurance changes.

Walgreen Co, the largest U.S. drugstore, and more than a dozen other large employers have said they would offer their employee insurance for 2014 through the Aon Hewitt Corporate Health Exchange.

Home Depot employs about 340,000 people and will continue to offer healthcare benefits to full-time employees, who will be paying more for that coverage next year due to higher healthcare costs, Holmes said.

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