New York, NY – The Association of Benefit Administrators, Inc. (ABA), provides a forum for administrators and their professionals, consultants, and vendor partners to share concerns, potential strategies and solutions.
The ABA does so through its periodic meetings during which subject matter experts present on various topics related to health and welfare and pension plan administration, cost containment, strategies, legal compliance, and related topics.
LaborPress was privileged to delve deeper into the ABA’s mission and how it makes a difference in workers’ lives, in advance of its upcoming Annual Benefit Administrators 23rd Annual Reception. It will be held on December 8th, 2023, at the St. Regis Hotel. Charles Hamilton, Consultant, Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW shared details about the ABA’s history, member skills, victories, challenges and more, as well as this year’s honoree, Janella T. Hinds.
LP: What are some of the stand-out moments of ABA history that you think are important for people to know? What is the ABA’s mission, then and now?
CH: The ABA was founded in 1961 by a group of 23 benefit administrators with the goal of improving their professionalism, serving as a source of information on health, welfare and pension matters, and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and experience. That’s continued to be our mission to this day. Over time, in addition to fund administrators, the ABA welcomed, as associate, non-voting members, the professionals, consultants, and vendor partners who serve the union sponsored benefit plan community. The ABA has provided innumerable educational sessions over the years, helping to keep administrators and their advisers informed about changing laws and regulations, and suggesting different strategies and programs that provide value to their workers. The ABA has also brought various issues to the attention of its members, thereby encouraging the union funds to take action, such as lobbying for changes to proposed regulations or laws. Most recently, the ABA alerted its community of proposed regulations in NYS regarding pharmacy benefits that would have been costly and would have chipped away at the protections provided to our benefit funds by ERISA’s preemption clause. The result was numerous letters from ABA members to the appropriate NYS government entities and the tabling of the dangerous portions of the regulation.
LP: Can you summarize for our readers what exactly the ABA members do and the many ways their work benefits workers?
CH: ABA members are generally fund administrators, benefit fund staff, or, in some cases, trustees of benefit funds who run the health, welfare, and pension benefit plans for union workers. They possess unique skills and knowledge regarding every aspect of health care and its delivery mechanisms; they know strategies to control soaring health care costs; make improvements in pension plan standards and coverage; constantly work to improve service to plan participants; they successfully operate dental, vision and hearing programs; they oversee pharmacy benefits and handle pharmacy benefit contracting; and they handle many other programs and aspects of benefit fund administration. Associate ABA members support the fund administrators’ efforts either as consultants, legal advisors, or vendors of services, networks, etc. that benefit the union members and the benefit plans. The work ABA members and associate members do are invaluable to workers and their families. For example, retirement benefits provide a secure future for workers upon their retirement. Health and welfare benefits provide access to medical and other welfare benefits that help workers and their families stay healthy or help them when they’re ill, and provide a key financial safety net while doing so. Medical debt is the number one cause for personal bankruptcy in America, and our health plans help our workers avoid financial ruin when facing illness. Welfare plans also provide other benefits, such as death benefits or life insurance, disability benefits, prepaid legal plans, child care plans, scholarships and apprenticeship programs, among others, all of which serve to improve the lives or workers and their families.
LP: What are some of the most consistent challenges the ABA members face in their work, and what are different ways they approach these obstacles?
CH: The world of retirement and health and welfare benefits is governed by increasingly complex statutes and regulations, and keeping abreast of the ever changing legal landscape and staying legally compliant, while continuing to provide value to their workers, is a challenge. And rising costs, particularly regarding healthcare benefits, is perhaps the single most significant challenge. ABA members, working with their professionals and consultants, do their best to stay current with changes. They do so by reading, studying, by attending conferences, and, in all modesty, we believe being an ABA member and attending our lunch meetings helps, too. Attending conferences and our ABA meetings also allows ABA members the opportunity to listen to what other administrators have done to successfully contain rising healthcare costs, or to hear from experts about various strategies or programs that have helped others. By staying curious, by attending our meetings and the various conferences in our field, ABA members can stay abreast of both changes they need to be aware of and about various services and programs that can help bring value to their workers by, for example, cutting costs or improving outcomes, or both.
LP: Please share a bit about why Janella T. Hinds was chosen as this year’s award recipient.
CH: We’re very excited to honor Janella T. Hinds. She has a very impressive resume and work history, starting with an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a Masters degree from NYU. She is both the vice president for academic high schools for the United Federation of Teachers and has been re-elected to serve a fourth four-year term as secretary-treasurer of the New York City Central Labor Council. In the latter role, she is responsible for fiduciary oversight of the NYCCLC, which represents 1.3 million workers in about 400 public- and private-sector unions. As VP of academic high schools, Janella fights for equity for students and empowerment for educators in every New York City high school. Janella has also championed the importance of retirement and welfare benefits to UFT members and NYCCLC members. For example, she’s been a proponent for equity, fairness and advancement while serving as the chair of the New York Union Child Care Coalition, where she fights for working people to have access to high-quality, affordable child care and advocates for living wages for our child care workers. Her advocacy also includes an executive board membership at a healthcare rights group. Janella Hinds will also be the first woman labor leader to receive the ABA’s Dr. Thomas J. Mackell Jr. Distinguished Labor Service Award.
LP: What can attendees expect at the event in terms of the venue and provisions; is it open to the public, and do you anticipate this to be as much a networking event as an awards celebration?
CH: The Annual ABA Reception has become the traditional kick off celebration of the holiday season in the New York metropolitan area. It’s held at the beautiful St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan, this year on Friday, December 8, from 6 PM to 10 PM. It is open to the public with the purchase of a ticket. Our guests can expect an unparalleled array of food and top-flight liquors. The food will include from passed hors d’oeuvres to a rack of lamb carving station, beef tenderloin carving station, tower of jumbo shrimp, risotto, cheese and charcuterie, etc., and, this year, we’re adding a dessert station. One of the features we enjoy is that there are numerous cocktail tables we share with each other, rather than sitting down at a table of ten. This feature encourages mingling and unmatched networking opportunities. We also pride ourselves in keeping the formal awards program and speeches short, so we all have more time to enjoy the party. In addition to having a wonderful honoree, we’re excited to have as our Keynote Speaker this year the Honorable Kirsten Gillibrand, United States Senator.
LP: When is the deadline for tickets, and can journal ads be purchased?
CH: To buy a journal ad in time to make the Event Program and Placards displaying the union or firm name the deadline is November 30th, but journal ads can still be purchased even after the event because we publish and distribute the journal after the event to enable us to include photographs of the event. Tickets to the event can be purchased up to the event itself, but we’d love to have a firm count by December 1, the week prior to the event.
So one final pitch – come celebrate the holidays, our wonderful honoree and keynote speaker, the work that we all do in improving the lives of working people, and party with an amazing and fun group of people!