Meijer Inc. part of the HHS program as well

January 14, 2011
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Universal Forest Products is not alone: Meijer Inc. also received Department of Health and Human Services waivers from the medical loss ratio rule in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The two Grand Rapids companies — both with strong Republican ties — wanted to continue to offer health insurance policies with minimal coverage, known as “mini-med” policies.

Under health care reform, starting this year, individual and small group insurers must spend 80 percent to 85 percent of premium revenue on medical costs. If they don’t, they’ll be required to reimburse a portion of premiums to their members in 2012.

Often provided for part-time workers, mini-med plans usually have high turnover rates that lead to administrative costs higher than those allowed under health care reform. That has led some companies, unions and insurers that offer them to ask HHS for mini-med dispensation from the new medical loss ratio rules.

Universal Forest Products was one of the companies called out earlier this month by uber-Republican Karl Rove, former advisor to President George W. Bush, in his Wall Street Journal column, as receiving a waiver thanks to a cozy relationship with the Democratic Obama Administration.

That prompted a quick letter from Universal Forest CEO Michael B. Glenn to the Journal, arguing that the waiver is for a small piece of the company’s benefits package that it didn’t want to lose under what he called “ill-conceived” and “careless legislation.”

Perhaps Rove forgot that Universal Forest Products’ former leader, Peter Secchia, is an active Republican, previously serving on the Republican National Committee and appointed as ambassador to Italy by President George H. Bush.

The HHS provided the Business Journal with the same list of 222 waivers that Rove used for his column. Meijer Inc. accounts for two entries, and Frank Guglielmi, spokesman for the five-state retailer, confirmed it. 

“I can tell you that Meijer applied for and received waivers for two ‘mini-med’ plans,” Guglielmi wrote in an email. “The approval of the waivers has allowed us to continue offering affordable health care coverage for thousands of Meijer team members.”

A waiver saved the Meijer Health Benefit Plan/Primary Care Option for 7,436 employees. Another entry simply lists “Meijer” and indicated that the waiver will affect 4,873 employees.

Meijer CEO Mark Murray, who served in the administration of former Gov. John Engler and is advising Gov. Rick Snyder, can’t get much more Republican.

The list also includes national companies with local outlets, such as HCR ManorCare, which owns three Grand Rapids nursing homes; Eastbrook Lanes and Lincoln Lanes bowling centers (AMF Bowling Worldwide); TGI Friday’s (Carlson Restaurants); Noodles & Company; Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse (Darden Restaurants); O’Reilly Auto Parts; Ruby Tuesday; Cracker Barrel; and BoRics Hair Care, SuperCuts and Panopolous Salons (Regis Corp.).

The waivers cover a total of 1.5 million people.

Who’s counting?

Members of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority unanimously re-elected Kayem Dunn last week as the board’s chairwoman for another year, either her third or fourth. Dunn said she wasn’t counting, but Mayor George Heartwell has been paying attention. “You’ve really been an extraordinary chair,” he said to her.

In just the last four years, which covers at least three-quarters, if not all of Dunn’s time in the lead chair, $1.3 billion in construction project have been completed. “This is an exciting time in the history of the DDA and I’m happy to be involved with it,” she said.

Board members then selected Brian Harris, also unanimously, as their vice chairman. Harris replaces John Canepa who held that post for the past several years.

Tricks of the trade

The Literacy Center of West Michigan was visited recently by a delegation from the Singapore Workforce Development Agency. The delegation, consisting of 13 workforce authorities, curriculum developers, executives and trainers, were in town to learn more about the Literacy Center’s recognized approaches to workplace literacy training.

The Literacy Center of West Michigan has received numerous awards for best practices from numerous organizations, and drew national attention in 2008 by being featured on ABC World News as a successful approach to the epidemic of illiteracy.

A red-letter day

Yang Kim, co-owner and executive creative director of People Design in Grand Rapids, was recently invited to create an original piece for The Society of Typographic Arts alphabet poster series. The posters were auctioned off in Chicago on Dec. 9. Proceeds benefited the STA’s Jack Weiss Founder Scholarship Fund.

In all, the STA invited 26 designers—one for each letter of the alphabet—to select and graphically interpret a letter in their chosen medium. The letters were produced as 8x10-inch posters and presented in frames.

In addition to an auction of the framed original works, each letter also was bound into a book sold at the event.

“I chose ‘Y’ as my subject, of course,” Yang said. As for the inspiration behind her design, “That’s always the toughest question,” she added. “You never know how you’ll get an idea. It kind of magically appears when you are not thinking about it.” In this case, it came in the form of a package of animal-shaped rubber bands.

Coming attraction?

The end credits haven’t begun rolling yet on the saga of the old Lear plant on Alpine Avenue in Walker, now called Avastar Park, a semi-filled industrial park. There is still a chance a legitimate movie studio could materialize there, albeit not one called Hangar42, and not involving anyone from a group called West Michigan Film, which launched the Hangar42 project that crashed and burned on takeoff last year.

In December, months after one of the kingpins of the Hangar42 Studio had been charged with attempting to defraud the state of Michigan, Jack Buchanan Sr. — who denies ever having been involved with West Michigan Film — told the Business Journal that he still had “some people in the movie industry” interested in Unit 5, the largest segment of the shuttered auto parts plant.

“We haven’t made any deals,” he added, but declined to reveal any details.

He is likely talking about SHM Partners and Fifty-Fifty Entertainment, which proposed late last summer to acquire Unit 5 and turn it into Avastar Park Studios for film productions. Global X, a Cleveland-based company that specializes in obtaining tax credits for economic development, made a proposal to the city of Walker on behalf of SHM Partners.

Walker City Manager Cathy Vander Meulen confirmed last week that Global X is still negotiating with Buchanan.

There is also some unresolved litigation remaining from the Hangar42 affair, however, that hangs over the property, noted Vander Meulen, “but the project is not dead. I can tell you that,” she said.

“But there isn’t a whole lot of other detail to give you. I would say in the next 30 to 60 days, we’re going to have a lot clearer picture as to what is going to happen over there.”

“It’s a very complicated project,” she added.

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