SAN JOSE, Calif. - If any church in Upper Darby, Pa., ever needs a guest speaker or new preacher, Skip Snyder should be contacted. Whenever the owner of Snyder Company Inc. gets in front of a microphone ... well, the contractor knows how to use one.

And, when he's passionate about the subject matter, the former president of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) can certainly ignite a crowd.

Unfortunately for Snyder, there were not too many contractors in the seats when he and three fellow members of ACCA's Government Relations Committee discussed the current health insurance environment in a panel roundtable held at the 2006 ACCA Convention. Because the high cost of health insurance continues to be a serious concern to contractors across the country, Snyder was uncertain why only a few convention attendees came to examine this issue and to share stories and solutions to the current problems involving health insurance.

The fact the event was held on the afternoon of ACCA's golf tournament might have had something to do with the sparse turnout. "I always found the 80-20 rule interesting," said Snyder. "To me, the 80-20 rule is maybe 80 percent of the time you are doing something that represents a 20 percent impact. But, 20 percent of the time you are representing something that has an 80 percent impact.

"So, sitting in here, if you act on what you learn here today, and, after this is over, you'll go away with substantially better knowledge than you came here with. I highly recommend that you network after this is over. Let's use that 20 percent to impact the 80 percent."

Chris Colditz gave a brief overview of some of the available health care plans, including PPOs and HMOs.


Snyder was actually the last person at the podium. Prior to making his final plea, contractors Chris Colditz, Bruce Silverman, and Jeff Miller touched upon specific health care issues. Colditz, of Laco Mechanical Services (Palatine, Ill.), gave a brief overview of some of the available health care plans, including PPOs and HMOs.

"There are no nationally mandated rules," she said. "Not only can programs vary from state to state, they can actually vary from county to county. If you pay attention when you are applying for a health insurance group, they are asking what county your business is in, what county your employee lives in, and they change the cost depending upon where they [insurance company] think there is high risk or low risk. And, these costs can change quickly. So even though you think you are locked in for a year, sometimes you are not."

She did caution that, with each program, nothing seems to be etched in stone.

"My PPO suddenly; they gave me a whole two month's notice that they were eliminating one of my doctors," said Colditz. In reference to an HMO, she added, "I know some families who, because of the network they are in, they are changing doctors every year. I don't think that is good continuity of care."

Silverman, of Airite Air Conditioning Inc. (Tampa, Fla.), brought attendees up-to-speed regarding health savings plans and accounts. Afterward, Miller, of Al-Don Service Inc. (St. Louis), provided cost-cutting measures contractors could entertain.

"It concerns me where these health care expenses are going," said Miller. "Most of us in this industry, we've tried to give our employees 100 percent coverage, due to competition or just by the fact we want to take care of our employees. Covering family, though, has become a huge, huge challenge. ... In order to attract people, down the line we have to look at these issues."

Miller noted that some businesses just cannot turn to another insurance company in order to get lower premiums. Because he has some prior health problems, Miller said he cannot move to another insurer.

"Look carefully at quotes," he warned. "Make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Insurance companies are sneaky. They will wait until less than 30 days before doing their renewal process."

Miller noted that some insurers will lower rates if a company employs a health insurance consultant, a professional who comes in and shows employees how to be more physically fit via nutrition, diet, and exercise.

"This is becoming a huge industry," said Miller, referring to health consulting. "There are more and more of these companies popping up every day."


Snyder noted that last year, as of the end of September, 8.8 percent of his sales went into paying for insurance to run his business and to insure his employees. That was not the case in 1995, when 2.2 percent of sales were used to pay insurance costs.

"What if I told you 10 years from today you are going to be paying 8 percent strictly on an inferior health care plan for your employees?" asked Snyder. "Could you do that? Do you have a system set up to handle that?"

Snyder agreed that contractors do have the option of limiting coverage for employees, but that was not his recommendation. "If we want to be foolish, we can dumb it down and we can play games, but then the next question is: ‘Why can't we get good technicians?' " asked Snyder. "Reason? We are not delivering the goods. We are not delivering the benefit packages that brings people in."

Snyder made a not-so-bold statement, noting that the cost of supplying health insurance will "go through the roof." According to his figures, his company is spending $135 per day to cover insurance costs. And, when he renews next year, he expects to pay $145 per day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

"So, you know this is coming. So, you know it is here. You have been living it the last five or so years. I am going to ask you a simple question: What is your strategy for next year to cover your medical costs?" Snyder asked attendees, his voice becoming louder by the second. "And, I don't want to hear from a group of professionals that the HVACR industry is going to increase its deductibles or that we're going to cut benefits."

The answer Snyder wanted to hear came from one owner in the crowd who replied, "Raising prices."

"That's certainly one strategy," said Snyder. "But you can't do that alone. So our strategy, in this room - and we have to spread the word - is to deliver a superior product with superior people, who are paid superior wages with superior benefits. It's a simple solution."

As other options, Snyder recommended that contractors shop around rather than decrease benefits. He also asked that members contribute to ACCA's Political Action Committee, terming it "the voice of the HVACR contractor on Capitol Hill."

Before stepping away from the podium, Snyder encouraged every attendee to mail handwritten letters to members of Congress, urging senators to pass association health plans.

"These are things we have to look at. We make the difference," he said. "We continue to complain, ‘When is somebody going to do something about this?' I hate to tell you, folks, but you are the 20 percent. You are the 20 percent that is going to drag along the other 80 percent so that we make a 100 percent difference."

Publication date: 05/08/2006