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UnitedHealthcare's Oxford starts N.J.-only health care network

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UnitedHealthcare's Oxford division is launching a New Jersey-only network of doctors and hospitals that will provide lower-cost health plans to employers who use the 18,000 doctors and 65 hospitals in the new Oxford Garden State Network.

Chuck Cerniglia, vice president, small business sales for UnitedHealthcare, said employers on average will see 10 percent lower health insurance premiums if they choose the new health plans in the Garden State Network, which launches Sept. 1.

“It limits access to New Jersey-only providers and it is a solution for New Jersey employers where a smaller network offers a reduction in cost,” he said.

He added that employers will continue to have the option of offering their employees the company’s larger networks alongside the more limited — but also more affordable — Garden State network. He said while a New Jersey-only network won’t work for all employers, many clearly are seeking less-expensive health care options.

“There needs to be more competitive, lower cost (health plans) in the marketplace that employers can take advantage of,” Cerniglia said. “There is the rising cost of health care, and we need to find ways to lower that cost.”

The Garden State network has 13 different plan designs that follow the Affordable Care Act guidelines for the different benefit levels: bronze, silver, gold and platinum.

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Cerniglia said for some New Jersey employers “this will be the perfect option for them.” The rising cost of health care has prompted employers to consider dropping health coverage and “This could be the defining line of offering coverage or not offering coverage if it hits the right price point.”

Insurance broker David Oscar of Altigro in Fairfield said health insurers are moving to so-called “narrow networks” that deliver lower premiums in exchange for restricting members to a smaller group of health care providers. He said he will analyze the Garden State Network and determine if it would help his clients.

“At first glance, it looks like it would be worth it to investigate this,” Oscar said.

He said one client, a business with 30 employees, would save $4,000 a month in health care premiums by switching to the Garden State Network. Oscar said he needs to determine if the client will be satisfied with the providers in the new network, and with any changes in plan design that go along with making the switch, but “If you are talking about $4,000 a month, that is not a shabby number.”

UnitedHealthcare has about 1.5 million members in New Jersey, the majority of them in employer-based health plans. Cerniglia said existing clients may switch to the Garden State Network, which he predicted will also bring new business to the company.

“I can tell you that we’ve had an overwhelming response from brokers in the community.” He said hundreds of brokers have taken part in webinars “to learn more about these products.”

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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