Being able to offer employees health coverage is a coup to any company. Healthy employees are happy, productive employees. But what about those workers who don't qualify for health-care benefits? According to Washington, D.C.-based HR Policy Association, the association of human resource executives, there are 44 million Americans without health-care protection. Many of these folks are part-time employees and contract workers -- employees that help keep manufacturing companies running smoothly. In order to address the uninsured, more than 50 Fortune 500 companies have united their purchasing power to offer access to affordable health insurance coverage. The coalition, which is being designed by Hewitt Associates under the direction of HR Policy, will create alliances among major employers, health-care plans and providers. It will then seek bids from health plans and select one that offers coverage at below-current-market cost. The coalition, dubbed The Affordable Health Care Solutions, includes Caterpillar Inc., Ford Motor Co., GE, General Mills Inc., IBM Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., Parker Hannifin Corp. and Textron Inc. While participants in the coalition need to be members of the HR Policy Association, Marisa Milton, associate general counsel and director of government relations at HR Policy, says eventually non-members will be able to harness the power of the coalition, which should be up and running in spring 2005. She notes that many of HR Policy member companies have been looking for ways to help alleviate the financial burden that uninsured employees face. "As the nation's biggest employers, we're major stakeholders -- and a potential force for positive change in an American health-care system that is in critical condition today," says J. Randall MacDonald, senior vice president, human resources for IBM, and chairman of HR Policy's Health Care Policy Roundtable. "We're not a cure-all. The root causes of problems like the uninsured and sharply escalating health-care costs are far too complex to be solved overnight, but these two coalitions are a solid step in the right direction." The other coalition MacDonald is speaking about is a regional program that will enable members to combine their purchasing power to generate premium discounts and administrative cost savings for employers, employees and small businesses in the area -- a bonus to vendors of these major companies. This program will be operational by January 2006, according to Milton. As for government intervention in the health-care crisis, Milton says that Congress is looking at a lot of the same issues as HR Policy member companies, but it will take time to see any results. "The Affordable Health Care Solutions is a great model," says Milton. "Hopefully Congress can look at [what we've done] and do something similar."