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For Univera, and Excellus, it's deja vu all over again in news releases

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield has a consistent corporate message across its 39-county footprint in Upstate New York, where it does business in Western New York as Univera Healthcare and under the Blues' brand in Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and the Southern Tier.

How consistent? A news release sent out under the Univera name here --- and the Excellus name in Rochester, Syracuse and Utica --- was almost exactly the same in each community.

The release, and accompanying report, detailed the high rate of insurance coverage in Upstate New York --- one of the company's periodic, data-rich reports on topics related to health care and insurance.

Each community's release included the same sentences, word for word. The same data used in the same order. The same quotes from a company executive.

Why do we say "almost" identical? Because the company used the same quotes but attributed them to a different executive in each market.

Here's an example: “From a taxpayer’s perspective, job-based health insurance is preferable to government-based coverage, because it costs taxpayers less. We have 371,000 more upstate New Yorkers covered due to job-based benefits than we’d have if we were at the national rate for employer-based coverage.”

In Buffalo, Univera President Art Wingerter said that. In Rochester, the corporate headquarters, Excellus CEO Christopher Booth said it. In Utica, Excellus Regional President Eve Van de Wal made this observation. And in Syracuse, Dr. Arthur Vercillo, Excellus' regional president there, made the comment.

Now, they didn't all magically say the same thing to the public-relations rep who wrote the news release.

Excellus/Univera is far from the only company that puts a canned quote in a release.

So why does Excellus/Univera do that?

The Buffalo-area Univera spokesman, Peter Kates, said it's one company that does business under two names, and when it has news to announce it does so under the brand name that makes the most sense for each part of its coverage area.

As for the word-for-word quotes, Kates said, "It's a company statement attributed to the local leader to localize it," he said.

---Stephen T. Watson


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Survey: Quality, not price, drives workers' health insurance choices

The quality of coverage is more a more important factor than the cost of that coverage for employees making decisions about their health insurance, according to a survey by Liazon Corp., the Buffalo-based health-benefits exchange company.

Fifty-three percent of the employees surveyed said they selected plans that provided the proper level of coverage, more than twice the 23 percent who said they chose plans that promised lower costs.

They are the key findings of an online survey of employees and employers that use Liazon's Bright Choices exchange, an online marketplace designed to help employers save money on health care costs and set predictable budgets while giving consumers more choices.

The survey also found that 63 percent of employees who shopped for insurance on the Bright Choices exchange felt more aware of the costs of their health care than before using the exchange, and 60 percent felt more engaged in decisions about their medical care.

The survey was conducted last summer by Phoenix Marketing International on behalf of Liazon, which released the results Tuesday.

---Stephen T. Watson

On eve of Metrodome roof deflation, a look back at history of roof built by Amherst company

Amherst's Birdair was dispatched to Minneapolis to rebuild the Metrodome's roof after its collapse in 2010. (Associated Press file photo)

With the Metrodome roof set to be deflated Saturday with the Twins and Vikings having moved (or moving) on to new facilities, here is a look back at the 2010 roof collapse in which the Amherst-based company that built the roof, Birdair, had to repair it after heavy snowfall in the Midwest:

Here is a Minneapolis-based Star Tribune article earlier this week, including a video with a last look inside the dome.

Quiet diplomacy surrounds M&T's Cuban accounts

There’s some intrigue involving M&T Bank Corp. and its banking relationship with diplomatic missions in the United States, including Cuba’s. And the issue could resurface a month from now.

To review, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 26 said it was suspending consular services in the United States – such as visa and passport applications – because it said M&T was closing its bank accounts. The Cuban officials said M&T would “no longer provide banking services” to foreign missions and had given notice to that effect back on July 12.

The Cuban officials said they were having trouble finding a replacement bank, even with the U.S. State Department’s help. The story attracted national media attention because of the potential impact on travelers between the United States and Cuba, and the history of political tensions between the two countries.

On Dec. 9 – about two weeks after the announcement – Cuban officials said M&T had provided notice on Dec. 6 of a deadline extension. The Cuban officials said the bank specified it “will continue receiving deposits from consular services” until Feb. 17, and would not close the accounts until March 1. A reason for the extension was not given.

The Cuban officials said the extension allowed them to resume – at least temporarily – providing consular services. But its long-term problem of finding another bank remains, and a Miami Herald story in early December suggested the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, Cuba, could be impacted if the problem was not resolved.

The deadline extension raised some interesting questions that The Buffalo News has been trying to answer, without success:
•How did Buffalo-based M&T come to have business with diplomatic missions in the United States in the first place, and how many other countries’ missions was it providing services to? M&T has declined to talk about that line of business in general, or the Cuba matter in particular.

•What prompted M&T to extend its deadline for closing the Cuban accounts, after the announcement by the Cuban officials in late November? The State Department acknowledged it has been trying to help the Cuban officials line up a new bank. But a State Department spokeswoman did not answer a specific question about whether the department played a role in M&T’s decision to grant the extension.

Cuban officials in Washington have not responded to requests to comment on this issue. The last time they posted a message on their website about their efforts to line up a new bank was Dec. 9.
Experts say banks in general probably are wary of doing business with foreign missions, since they are under greater pressure to combat money laundering. Under those circumstances, it has been hard to find another bank willing to take M&T’s place for the Cuban Interests Section.

And Cuba is a sensitive subject for U.S. businesses, given U.S. policy toward the island nation and Cuba’s inclusion on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror (along with Syria, Sudan and Iran).

-- Matt Glynn

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