November 12, 2013
By Steven Wishnia
Investment advice, managing health benefits, and drug rehab were all in the mix at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ Health & Benefits Expo, held at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Manhattan on Nov. 8. The event, held annually for the last 20 years, is an opportunity for union leaders, administrators, and welfare fund managers to network and to learn about “hot topics in the labor market,” said Maureen Gonzalez, longtime expo coordinator for Teamster Center Services.
More than 350 people attended, about 200 from unions—virtually all from Teamsters locals in the tristate area—and the rest with the 55 vendors, who included Blue Cross/Blue Shield, CIGNA HealthCare, EmblemHealth, and United HealthCare.
The vendors, said Gonzalez, are “all trying to land union members,” while the union officials are looking for ways to improve health and retirement benefits. Neil Model of Model Consulting said his company, whose clients include the Teamsters’ Philadelphia local, had saved Taft-Hartley multiemployer health-insurance plans 25 to 30 percent. A handful of drug-rehab and “behavioral medicine” centers tried to drum up business, as an Alkermes salesman touted Vivitrol, a long-acting drug that blocks the craving for alcohol and heroin.
Health care and drug abuse are the perennial topics for the workshops, said Gonzalez, and this year was no exception. The opening workshop focused on maximizing health-care dollars by avoiding misdiagnoses; it was presented by BestDoctors, which provides expert second opinions to doctors and patients. Former White House drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey called drug and alcohol abuse “the most important health-care problem facing America,” claiming that there are 20 million people “impaired by addiction.” He praised Alcoholics Anonymous, said rehab centers should not give up on people who relapse, and denounced marijuana legalization.
Another workshop focused on how union health-care plans will fare once Obamacare goes into effect—with many saying that there’s not yet enough information to judge. “So far, so good. We’ll see in the long run,” said Annabelle Soto of Teamsters Local 272’s welfare fund. And Brian Doherty of Ullico, an 85-year-old union-owned investment and insurance company, said the Affordable Care Act’s ending health-insurance companies’ caps on how much they’ll pay in a policyholder’s life had encouraged benefit funds to buy stop-loss insurance.