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Planning, communication smooth shift of retirees to health exchange

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One of the major accomplishments of Marty Webb's tenure as vice president of benefits at AT&T Inc. in Dallas has been engineering the largest transition to a private health care exchange in the market to date.

While the total number of retirees and dependents in the exchange, which was officially launched Jan. 1, is confidential, Mr. Webb said he “wouldn't argue” with estimates that it totals about 200,000.

AT&T officials proceeded with this massive project cautiously but eventually felt, watching the market develop, that it “was ready for the retirees at a price that was better than the price that we could offer internally,” he said.

AT&T chose Aon Hewitt to manage the exchange, but not because of AT&T's previous relationship with Aon, Mr. Webb said. “We went through an exhaustive process to determine what entity was the best market for our employees,” said Mr. Webb. “We didn't just default to them.”

Mr. Webb said many retirees 65 or older had never really chosen a health care product and had just accepted what AT&T provided. Now they had an opportunity to choose, “which sounds really nice,” but it was important to use a company that “had the right processes in place and that was flexible enough to change for our needs, and to be able to move that many people through a channel and give them lots of time and information to choose the product or products that's right for them.”

The year-long process entailed more than 60 educational sessions around the United States and “literally hundreds of people on the phone” talking to individual employees. But “we're very pleased” with how it went, Mr. Webb said, adding there have been few complaints. “We think people are generally happy where they are and the way this works.”

Bill Blase, AT&T's senior executive vice president for human resources and Mr. Webb's boss, said Mr. Webb “had to go out and meet with thousands of retirees who were very nervous about change, as you would expect,” and explain to them what was happening to them and why. But it “was done flawlessly,” he said.