Preserving Links A Priority

July 21, 2008
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Priority Health is trying to make sure that its 1,700 members who are General Motors white-collar retirees stay in the fold. Last week, GM announced it is discontinuing group health benefits for 97,400 salaried retirees, and will instead add a taxable $300 per month to their pensions to help them buy insurance.

LouAnn Shawver, senior manager of Medicare sales for Priority Health, said of the Grand Rapids company’s 700 West Michigan members and 1,000 eastern Michigan members affected by GM’s decision: “We can take care of (them) without any hiccups at all.” 

But Priority Health has approval to sell Medicare Advantage in only 23 of Michigan’s 83 counties, and none of them are the counties of Metro Detroit. She said she expects Priority Health to gain approval from the federal Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services to market Medicare Advantage products there starting in 2010. Priority Health, owned by Spectrum Health, does have approval to move into the Jackson area in 2009, Shawver said.

Still, GM white-collar retirees who have retired in Up North counties served by Priority Health, and who spend at least six months there, can consider joining Priority Health’s Medicare Advantage program.

GM is using Extend Health, a Salt Lake City “provider of defined contribution health care solutions to Fortune 500 companies.” It uses a Web interface to help retirees find health care plans. Ford and Chrysler used the same company for their changes for retirees; the GM retirees will start getting help, including personal telephone calls, in September. While the 40 insurance companies Extend Health works with pay a fee for each policy sold, the service is free to retirees. Shawver said Priority Health last week was filling out the paperwork to join competitors on the Extend Health list.

“GM been very proactive with us in talking to us about what’s going to go on,” Shawver said. “We’re getting specs from them probably today telling us what we need to do to be part of this.”

Already working with Extend Health is Blue Cross Blue Shield and for-profit competitors who have been more aggressive recently in the Michigan market: Aetna, Cigna, United Healthcare and Humana. Humana’s Michigan operations are run by Denise Christy, who helped launch the Butterworth HMO that eventually became Priority Health. Christy told the Business Journal last year that much of Humana’s growth in Michigan has been in the Medicare Advantage arena.

According to its Web site, Extend Health is owned by private equity firm Psilos Group Managers and Revolution Health Group, founded by America On-Line co-founder Steve Case. Revolution also owns CarePages, which provides a way for hospital patients and their families to communicate on the Web. In Grand Rapids, Spectrum Health and Saint Mary’s Health Care use CarePages.

  • A nasty barrage of e-mail and faxes last week pitted 88th District state House seat candidate Todd Boorsma against Matt Howell, the son of Millbrook Tack & Trailer’s Dan Howell.

The Byron Township equine and Western store closed its doors last week, leaving 40 people out of work, a move Matt Howell claims was due primarily to Boorsma’s involvement with the firm’s trailer division, in particular. “What I have a problem with is what I was able to see as I tried to assist in saving this business for the last few weeks and the gross hypocrisy on display in (Boorsma’s) campaign materials.”

Boorsma, who served as president of Michigan Gambling Opposition (MichGo), which has opposed the GunLake casino near Dorr, responded in an e-mail from his campaign to “a recent smear e-mail being distributed from Matthew Howell,” who he described as a land developer with holdings near the proposed GunLake casino and the estranged son of Dan Howell.

“I was forwarded an e-mail from Matt Howell, son of Millbrook owner Dan Howell,” said Boorsma. “In this e-mail there were a number of accusations made saying that the closing of the business was my fault. Matt Howell is not a part of the company; the owner and person who started the company is Dan Howell. Before I left the company in May to run my campaign, sales had greatly increased during my time as sales manager.

Boorsma said he has the support of Dan Howell.

“Millbrook’s closure was due to the struggling Michigan economy, the skyrocketing cost of fuel and feed prices, and consumers’ inability to purchase non-vital items. Fifth Third called in the loan at Millbrook, just as they are being forced to do all over the state,” said Dan Howell, in the e-mail sent by Boorsma’s campaign. “Todd Boorsma was a dedicated and cherished member of the Millbrook team whose contributions were nothing but positive. Any implications or accusations otherwise are simply not true.”

Boorsma’s camp claimed a possible motive for the “personal attack”: AlleganCounty records showing Matt Howell’s substantial real estate investments near the proposed casino site.

“Matt Howell owns land developments in the Dorr and Wayland area,” Boorsma’s campaign said. “According to an Allegan County Property record (enclosed), a 36.48-acre parcel off U.S.131 on

136th Avenue
in Wayland is registered to Matthew and Leora Howell of Wyoming, Michigan,” added Boorsma. “This parcel, which is just one exit away from the proposed casino site, was transferred from Dan and the late Rosemary Howell to their son in 2000, right before the casino proposals progressed. This personal attack is likely the result of Matt thinking he will gain from the casino proposed for Wayland that I have strongly opposed for years.”

  • Brazo, an LED task light introduced by Haworth, has been awarded a 2008 Gold Industrial Design Excellence Award. The IDEA competition is one of the world’s most prestigious design competitions and a celebration of the most innovative and exciting product and product concept designs of the year.

Designed by Pablo Pardo of Pablo Designs in San Francisco, Brazo has fully adjustable, calibrated light control and a precision quality machined recyclable aluminum body. 

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