November 16, 2015
By Steven Wishnia
Empire BlueCross BlueShield is by far the New York area’s largest provider of health insurance for labor unions. It handles plans that cover almost 3 million union members, including city and state employees, SEIU Local 32BJ, 12 Teamsters locals, and most of the building trades.
And for the last decade, the man in charge of administering those plans has been Thomas H. Canty, the company’s vice president and general manager for labor, government, and special accounts.
Canty grew up in Brooklyn, went to law school in Michigan, and now lives in Rockland County. His career encompasses work for labor unions, state government, and health-insurance companies. He was assistant director of legislative research for the New York State AFL-CIO before going into private practice as a lawyer representing unions. He then served as executive director of the state Workers Compensation Board and an administrative law judge with the Employment Relations Board.
He moved into the private sector to senior positions in sales and marketing at HIP, and joined Empire in 2001 as vice president of sales for labor, municipal, and special accounts. Most of the unions it works with have self-insured plans, he says, with Empire providing “administrative services only.” “They pay us an administrative fee, and we pay the claims,” he explains. The members get access to Empire’s network of doctors and hospitals, and the company administers claims, billing, and medical management. He credits Empire’s success to its “reputation of having really good customer service.” Other carriers offer customers a strict menu of which benefits are available in which plans, he says, but “we’ll customize everything for the individual fund.”That’s particularly important for Taft-Hartley multiemployer plans, which are common in construction and other industries where people regularly work for different employers. “We’re much more flexible at meeting customer demand in the Taft-Hartley area,” he says.
While the pressure to control costs has caused many insurers to offer plans with increasingly narrow networks of providers, he says that has so far affected people buying insurance on the individual market and through the Obamacare exchanges more than it has those covered by union benefits. “We believe in choice for the members,” he explains. “Most unions prefer the big networks.” That is especially true for Taft-Hartley plans and national accounts, he adds. “We know that every family depends on us for good health care,” he says. “We really appreciate the relationships we have with the unions and the Taft-Hartley funds.”