Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace

You Got Sick! AOL Slashes 401K Benefits And Blames Two Women Who Gave Birth To Sick Babies

CEO Tim Armstrong blamed the babies of two workers for increasing the company’s benefit costs.

Photo Credit: Delbert

AOL Chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong blamed the babies of two employees for increasing the company’s benefit costs on Thursday, explaining in a conference call that AOL had to pay millions out in medical bills and alter its entire benefits package. The remarks came just hours after the company announced changes to its 401(k) plans and complained that Obamacare has increased costs by $7.1 million.

“We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general,” Armstrong said on a conference call first reported by Capital New York. “And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost. So when we had the final decision about what benefits to cut because of the increased healthcare costs, we made the decision, and I made the decision, to basically change the 401(k) plan.” Under the new program, AOL employees will not be able to collect any matching funds toward their retirement savings from the company for any given year if they leave before Dec. 31 of that year.

But health care experts ThinkProgress contacted questioned why a large self-insured company with more than 5,000 employees could not absorb the additional health care costs associated with the pregnancies. Large employers typically purchase reinsurance, which could cover a substantial share of big claims and ensure stability in cases of larger-than expected medical payouts.

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“The Affordable Care Act is simply a convenient whipping boy for any decision an employer makes to cut benefits,” Tim Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee, said. “Assuming AOL had reasonably generous coverage like most large employers, it should not have experienced any significant changes in its benefit structure for 2014. Perhaps it had to pick up a few more employees that had not been covered before or reduce premiums for a few employees, but it is hard to see $7.1 million here.”

Meanwhile, the company is also hurting from poor business decisions. As the Washington Post reports, its quarterly earnings “were hurt by $13.2 million in costs associated with layoffs, including at Patch, the struggling local news venture recently sold to investment firm Hale Global. The Patch unit, championed by Armstrong, has lost an estimated $200 million.”

AOL’s total revenue beat expectations and increased $679 million in the fourth quarter. In 2012, Armstrong earned 12.1 million.

ThinkProgress reached out to AOL for comment, but did not receive a response.