|ATPA: Reinvent Yourself
Written by Meghan Flynn
Sunday, 01 June 2008
Associated Third Party
Administrators, Inc. (ATPA) operates in a complicated field: it manages a
wide variety of duties relating to the administration of employee benefit
plans pursuant to Taft-Hartley collective bargaining agreements between
unions and employers. Last year, United Benefits and Pension Services
(UB&PSI) purchased ATPA, the second largest third-party administrator
in the industry, and is orchestrating a paradigm shift in the level of
service and efficiency the company offers.
Stierwalt created UB&PSI with the goal of acquiring third-party administrators and installing best practices, systems, and products. “We are expanding our hours and services to make it more convenient for all union members to contact us by offering a comprehensive call center and having access via the Internet. They often need us more when they are off the clock and can identify with the better service we provide,” Stierwalt explained.
Two big initiatives are driving ATPA’s technological growth. The first deals with pension administration systems. The company has instituted an Internet-based, real-time employer accounting system. Employers enter information, and the system automatically updates the union members’ records, which can be accessed in real time to avoid any discrepancies.
The system allows for a lot of flexibility in dealing with all the idiosyncrasies of specific collective bargaining agreements. “In the Taft-Hartley world, there are no common denominators; everything is negotiated differently. This system is designed to be user friendly so a high level customization is possible, without utilizing programmers and creating implementation delays for the client,” explained Stierwalt.
To manage the administrative tasks associated with the unions’ health and welfare plans, ATPA is currently implementing a second new system: a logic program that can analyze claims using an if/then formula that allows for a hig level of auto-adjudication. Stierwalt explained that by imaging paper claims with the right parameters, the claim can move from the lock box to a check in the mail in a totally automated fashion. It is possible for a claim to never be touched by a claims adjuster and for a check to be cut in less than 72 hours with this system.
Auto-adjudication is not new to the industry, nor is an Internet-based pension administration system. But ATPA’s systems allow a far higher degree of auto-adjudication and, thus, a quicker turnaround of checks to members/providers and real-time updates available to union members.
“At ATPA, we are instituting a corporate culture with specific processes that adjust the focus from only administering the policies of the trust to additionally providing the best proactive service for the union member. That is a paradigm shift for the industry as a whole, and ATPA is leading the way, bringing third-party administrators into the 21st century,” said Stierwalt.
So far, ATPA customers have been thrilled with the control and flexibility the new systems provide, Stierwalt reported. The company’s next goal is to increase marketshare by expanding services to trusts that are currently self-administered, using salary administrators. Stierwalt explained that many Taft-Hartley trusts hire the unions to administer benefits instead of a third party like ATPA, so his company is creating value-added benefits to entice them.
“We’re developing debit cards employers can pre-load and give to union members, and we’re working on a set of managed-care products that will allow us to monitor and protect our trust fund’s fiduciary liability while providing membership with the most appropriate medical care, especially in catastrophic cases,” Stierwalt said.
ATPA traditionally has tended to set up an office on the same site as the union office to be more accessible to the union members. Now it is reworking this practice to attract self-administered trusts. In this new initiative, the salaried administrator keeps its people in place but installs the ATPA systems and technology, taking advantage of its products and services.
“This way, they don’t lose the benefit of having their people on site and available, but they can use our systems and take advantage of our resources. Our forte is the development and implementation of best practices—we help them do their job better,” Stierwalt said.
Take it to the limit
Those best practices extend beyond new technology and convenient services: Stierwalt and his team are instilling a culture of processes and methodology to make ATPA more efficient. For example, ATPA follows thorough project plans to keep the development and implementation of its new systems on time and on budget.
Stierwalt said he attends weekly meetings to review the project plans for the company and has implemented measures to increase accountability, such as attaching names and allocating specific hours to specific tasks and not allowing employees to work on projects not related to their part in the plan.
“I go to these meetings, which encourages the rest of the senior management to go as well, and that makes all of the company’s resources available to keep the plan on schedule,” he said. “We’ve instilled a discipline in this company that allows us to continue to grow and innovate and bring better services to our customers.”
He added that, usually, trustees of Taft-Hartley trust funds don’t have time to predict what might become potential problems or develop new services for their members, as they often have other jobs and responsibilities. “Providers have been very good at reacting to problems but not proactive in developing solutions. They should be taking on that role, and we’re working to set the standard for our industry.”