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Prospectus 2014

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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

Roof
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

Stock tables: 2013 Market in Review

View a detailed breakdown of the year-end stock tables.

For health insurance that kicks in Jan. 1, exchange deadline looms

New Yorkers who don't have health insurance, or who have coverage that expires at the end of the month, have one more week to sign up for insurance on the NY State of Health exchange that kicks in Jan. 1.

The deadline to sign up on the state exchange for insurance that takes effect at the start of 2014 originally was set for Friday but was moved to Dec. 23 to give people more time to get through the enrollment process.

State officials have praised the performance of website for the exchange, which has enrolled 134,622 New Yorkers as of 9 a.m. today. Of those, 95,196 have enrolled in a private insurance plan and 39,426 qualified for Medicaid. Another 228,636 people have finished the application process but still must select a plan in which to enroll, according to the state.

State Department of Health officials have yet to release a breakdown of the enrollment data by region, by insurer or by demographic details, so it's hard to know what to make of the enrollment number. Nor have they given any indication when they will be able to release this additional information.

---Stephen T. Watson

Study: New York ranks high in enrolling uninsured on exchange

Fourteen percent of uninsured New Yorkers have been approved for health insurance, through a private plan or Medicaid, on the state's insurance exchange in its first two months of operation, according to an report by a national non-profit health care research center.

New York ranks sixth in the nation in an analysis performed by the Transamerica Center for Health Studies, which compared enrollment data for the federal and state health insurance exchanges with the number of uninsured people in each state eligible to enroll there.

New York has 1.9 million people without insurance who are eligible to receive coverage through the exchange, a key component of federal health care reform. As of Nov. 30, 224,542 had been approved for enrollment in a private health plan through the state insurance exchange, and another 52,888 had been approved for enrollment in Medicaid or Child Health Plus.

The 277,430 total adds up to 14.49 percent of the eligible uninsured in New York, according to the Transamerica analysis.

Vermont has the highest rate of insuring this population, at 45.46 percent, followed by Washington State, Kentucky, Minnesota and Connecticut, all of which operate their own exchanges.

Alaska, at 2.32 percent, has the lowest rate among the 50 states and, like many of the lowest performing states, relies on the troubled federal exchange to enroll its residents.

The analysis can be found here.

---Stephen T. Watson

Lending meets job hunting

When someone loses a job, personal financial pressures -- like keeping up with the mortgage -- can intensify.

So imagine if the bank, instead of getting on you about your mortgage payment, offered to help you to find a new job.

It's an approach M&T Bank Corp. is trying out over the next year, with a limited number of its mortgage loan customers.

M&T will invite, at random, 150 of those customers who have lost their jobs and are struggling to keep up with mortgage payments to use the services of NextJob, a firm based in Oregon that helps people find jobs. M&T will pay for NextJob's services. The pilot program will run until November 2014.

M&T borrowed -- to use a banking term -- the idea from Ohio-based Fifth Third Bank, which started using NextJob's "Homeowner Re-employment Program" last year. Customers who were in the initial pilot program had been out of work for about 22 months. After completing NextJob's training, nearly 40 percent of the participants were fully employed within six months, according to M&T.

M&T liked those results and decided to give it a shot, said Ann Schlifke, vice president of corporate communications for M&T's mortgage and customer lending division.

Schlifke noted that M&T is offering the NextJob services to its customers, but is not requiring them to participate. "They have to take the step to sign up. We don't want it to seem like we're forcing them to do anything."

Schlifke said NextJob helps participants create a detailed job-search plan, including uncovering job opportunities, putting together an effective cover letter and resume, using the latest in Internet tools and techniques, and preparing for job interviews.

Participating in the program doesn't guarantee someone will get a job, or prevent M&T from taking any action with the customer's mortgage loan at some point.

M&T has just started using the program. "So far, the feedback we're getting is it's a welcome tool for our borrowers to be using," Schlifke said.

-- Matt Glynn

Local business leaders 'say cheese' with embattled Toronto mayor

As you might have heard, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, the admitted crack smoker who can charitably be described as a walking trainwreck of an elected official, chose to watch a little football this weekend.

Ford caused a minor international incident when he showed up at Sunday's Bills *home* game against the Atlanta Falcons in Toronto's Rogers Centre.

There was a large contingent of local business leaders and media types at the game, and some of them -- we're looking at you, Maryalice Demler -- created a stir after posting photos on Twitter taken with the controversial Ford.

The Buffalonians who posed with Ford included the top officials at two of this region's most prominent business organizations: Tom Kucharski of Buffalo Niagara Enterprise and Dottie Gallagher-Cohen of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

Gallagher-Cohen happily tweeted that she got the chance to hobnob with Ford.

Dottie_tweet

Therese Hickok, a spokeswoman for the Partnership, said Gallagher-Cohen watched the game in a suite with a contingent of business officials from the United States and Canada, Partnership and BNE representatives and executives from Rogers Communications. The group was there for a two-day, business-networking event called the Cross Border Huddle.

Hickok said Ford was in the suite next door and many people, including Gallagher-Cohen, went over to the other suite to meet the mayor and, yes, pose for a picture with him.

"He's still the mayor. He was shaking hands, as elected officials do, and posing for pictures with everyone," said Hickok, who wasn't there.

Asked whether she's sorry she didn't get to take a picture with Ford, Hickok laughed before replying, neutrally, "Yeah."

At least Gallagher-Cohen had the good sense, or good luck, not to put online a photo of her encounter with the Chris Farley-lookalike Ford.

Someone posted the Kucharski photo to the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise Twitter feed with the comment: "CEO Tom Kucharski taking it in w Toronto Mayor Rob Ford!"

The photo, and the exclamation point, drew criticism, with one commenter, Sean, or @202from716, asking why the BNE was proud of this tweet and whether "morons" operate its Twitter account.

Chrissmith

Sometime between the end of the game and Monday afternoon the BNE took down the tweet with the Kucharski-Ford picture.

BNE spokesman Paul Pfeiffer, like Hickok, said Ford may be controversial but he still is the mayor of Toronto. As for why the BNE took down the tweet, he said the online criticism had nothing to do with it.

"It was more of, does this content provide value for us? No, it really doesn't, so we took it down," Pfeiffer said.

It didn't provide value to the BNE, but we're getting a lot of mileage out of it.

-- Stephen T. Watson

Governor preserves status quo on canceled health insurance plans

New York will not let people keep for another year any health insurance plans that were canceled because they don't meet minimum benefits standards under the Affordable Care Act.

Insurers in New York had been waiting for instructions from the state on how to proceed following President Obama's proposal last week to let insurance companies offer the terminated plans in 2014.

At least 137,000 people in Western New York had received cancellation notices for their plans, and Obama had reacted in response to political and public frustration.

Insurers in this state have said they can't unilaterally decide to renew the expiring plans without guidance from the state Department of Financial Services, which oversees the insurance industry.

The department had yet to issue this direction, and Danielle Holahan, deputy director for NY State of Health, said on a conference call Monday that the state still is weighing its response.

However, speaking to reporters at an event Monday on Staten Island, Cuomo was asked about Obama's proposal.

"You know, we haven't had the kind of issues in New York on our exchange that they've had nationwide. Our program has actually been working well. The website has been working well. And we've had actually very good success with our program. So we don't see any reason to change it now, because we're not having those types of issues," Cuomo said.

Asked whether the governor's off-the-cuff remarks amount to a policy announcement, Matthew Anderson, a spokesman for the Department of Financial Services, referred a reporter to those remarks.

-- Stephen T. Watson

 

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