October 16, 2016
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
New York,NY – More than 350 people perused exhibits from hearing-health providers, pharmacy-benefit managers, and more at the Teamsters Center Services fund’s annual Health & Benefits Expo Oct. 14, held at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Manhattan.
The center, a Teamsters’ Taft-Hartley trust fund that provides services to 20 locals, conceived the event 23 years ago, says fund administrator Andy Johnson. People “realized we have all these unions who need vendors, and all these vendors who need unions,” he told LaborPress. This year’s event drew 53 exhibitors and participants from more than 130 companies, unions, and benefit plans (including LaborPress).
“It’s just a really good local forum for vendors, benefit-plan administrators, and trustees to get a chance to network,” Johnson says. Unions need services such as dental, vision, and health insurance, he explains and the exposition offers them one-stop shopping in an environment that’s large enough to offer a good selection but not so overwhelming that people can’t talk to each other.
Union-owned benefits-management outfits exhibiting included Ullico, which was founded in 1926 by the AFL to provide life insurance back when “a lot of companies wouldn’t insure union workers,” says Larry Paradise, vice president of sales. Today, it’s still “100% owned by the unions,” and has expanded into financing real-estate development, pension-fund management, and “stop-loss” programs. Those, Paradise explains, protect self-insured union health plans against losing money when members run up massive medical bills, and have become particularly important since the Affordable Care Act prohibited insurance companies from capping the amount of benefits a person can receive.The Amalgamated insurance companies, founded in 1943 and owned by UNITE HERE and the Workers United pension fund, provide coverage including life, accident, disability, and stop-loss policies. The advantage of a union-owned insurer, says executive vice president John A. Thornton, is that “we have a historical understanding of the wants and needs of union members and their families.”
Milliman offers the more arcane service of actuary consulting—helping multiemployer pension and health plans project their financial futures. “We help them manage the risks,” says consultant Paul R. Bonsee. The firm’s union clients include 1199 SEIU.
Hearing was a major topic, with the opening workshop on “The Silent Threat to Health and Productivity: The Need for Hearing Benefits.” EPIC Hearing Healthcare offers full hearing coverage similar to vision and dental benefits, says director of sales Mike Reha. “We focus specifically on hearing,” says East Coast sales director Tristian Walker. “We don’t try to be a jack-of-all-trades.” The company has the largest network of audiologists in the nation, he adds.
The Minnesota-based Amplifon company vends 10% of all hearing aids sold in the U.S., says senior account executive Jesse Johnson. The firm partners with Taft-Hartley multiemployer plans, such as that of SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers. With 176 million people and 4,600 audiologists in its network, Johnson says, the company can use its bulk-purchasing power to bring down prices by more than half.
The exhibitors also included several drug and alcohol rehab facilities, such as the Evolutions Treatment Center from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That center, open for four years, operates on the philosophy that recovery works better when it’s based on “attraction,” says admissions director Blake E. Cohen. People are more likely to stay sober if they see someone in recovery doing well, he explains. “It’s about showing people they can have a better life.”
Tragically, rehab services “are very busy due to the heroin epidemic,” says Andy Johnson. “It’s not the members. It’s their 19- to 25-year-old kids.”