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Legally Speaking


Issue: October, 2009
Author: William L. Hiser

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From the Top . . .

Health care reform is all the current rage and you can’t talk with anyone who does not have an opinion on what has caused the current crisis or what is necessary to fix the problem. I believe we are certainly going to see changes in the delivery of health care during this administration. As lawyers, we understand better than most that there are competing interests at work that have led to our current situation. As humans we inherently understand the need to take care of our dependents and our own medical needs and in these economic times we recognize and fear that the expense of a significant medical issue is more costly than we can probably afford. (i.e. there is a real threat we could go broke if we or a loved one got sick). I do not intend to get into a debate on who is right or wrong and what must be done to fix the national crisis; instead, I would like to address health care reform on a more personal level and invite you to take action for yourself by investigating and considering the potential group benefit plan being worked on by the Wyoming State Bar.

The bi-annual membership survey conducted by the Wyoming State Bar consistently shows that the most pressing concern of our membership is affordable health insurance. We would all like to have the security of employer-provided health insurance, but for private practitioners that simply is not an option. A few things stand out in my mind 21 years ago when I first became a member of the Bar. First, the Wyoming State Bar had a health insurance plan through BlueCross BlueShield of Wyoming and I promptly signed up thinking I was set for life. Second, a brand new malpractice insurer, ALPS, was being established by and for lawyers. This was significant for me because in addition to the malpractice premiums, lawyers were asked to purchase equity interests in the fledgling company to get it up and running. Well, I bit the bullet and purchased my equity interest under a three-year commitment/payment plan. In the past 21 years each of these facts has dramatically changed and I believe shed some light on our current position in the health insurance dilemma. Within a few years I was informed by BlueCross BlueShield that my health insurance obtained through the Bar Association was going to be cancelled, and I was on my own to find other insurance for my family and employees. Since that time I have continuously struggled to find affordable insurance and have changed companies and plans at least half a dozen times. On the other hand, ALPS has grown into a well respected leader in the malpractice field, has provided continuous coverage at competitive rates for 21 years, and my stock has increased substantially in value.

In our search to meet the needs of the Bar’s membership for reasonable health insurance, we contacted our old malpractice partner, ALPS. We were aware that ALPS had a health benefit plan for lawyers in place in Montana and they were working on one in Idaho. We wondered how their other health benefit plans had worked to date and if it was possible to do something for Bar members in Wyoming. We are pleased and excited that ALPS has agreed to work with us to develop a plan designed to meet the recognized need for health care benefits for members of the Wyoming State Bar.

In general, the plan presently in the works would be structured along the following criteria:

  1. A MEWA (Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangement) is a self-funded group benefit plan (not insurance) designed to meet the needs of Wyoming law firms with health care coverages (similar to typical insurance plans) to principals (lawyers), employees, spouses and dependants.
  2. Contributions to the plan will take the form of payments from participating employers (lawyers) to a Trust where the funds are used to finance the cost of member benefits. Benefits will be paid from trust funds and stop-loss insurance is purchased to protect the plan from claims exceeding a pre-designated level.
  3. Members will elect the Trustees of the Trust who will be responsible for establishing the plans and selecting administrative service providers to operate and manage the health benefit programs.
  4. Benefit plans will range from basic plans (coverage for serious illness without coverage for routine services) to premium plans (comprehensive coverage with low deductibles and co-pays) and may include the ability to individually select options with the choice of a range of deductibles and co-pays including plans that qualify for Health Savings Accounts. Employers will be able to customize and mix and match coverage and deductibles to meet their own needs as well as the needs of their employees with the option of having different plans for each.

While it is premature to declare this plan the solution to the health care crisis for lawyers, it is certainly worthy of your time and consideration. The main factors that have me believing in this plan and recognizing that now is the time to put forth full effort to develop a plan are: 1) health care reform will happen and it will happen to you if you don’t make it happen for you; 2) Wyoming lawyers will be in control of this plan without any need to provide profits or returns to others, and we can control and customize the plan to meet our collective needs; 3) ALPS is a trusted and proven insurance partner that understands lawyers; and 4) Wyoming lawyers are among the smartest people on earth, and if we work together we can design and implement a fair plan that will survive and thrive for generations to come.

If you are currently responsible for your own insurance, or if you may ever be, now is the time to fully investigate the options available with this MEWA plan. Please take the time to review and consider the materials we have provided and will be providing in the future and provide us with your questions, feedback and commitment to the pursuit of this benefit plan. If you and/or your firm are interested, please make sure you communicate your interest with us. Because of our limited numbers, it is essential that we hear from every single one of you that has any interest in order to demonstrate a sufficient level of interest to pursue this matter. This plan will only work if the group committed to pursuing it is large enough and diverse enough to get actuarial numbers in line with those of private insurance.

Your Bar leadership has worked hard, together with ALPS, to create the framework and vision for a healthcare benefit program for Wyoming lawyers, their dependants and employees. Now it is up to you to decide where we go from here. Are you willing to commit to a joint effort to form a group plan or should we leave things where they are and each of us fend for ourselves? I don’t pretend to have all of the answers; nor can I predict the future, but I do know that if we don’t have sufficient response to the current efforts to create a group health benefit plan, this quest will die, probably forever. However, I believe if enough of our members are committed to creating a health benefit plan, we are putting the pieces in place to create a plan that will make us all proud to be Wyoming lawyers.

Copyright © 2009 – Wyoming State Bar