Monday, April 30, 2007

Express News does great job of explaining MERP benefits

Ever work on something that took a couple of years? With the recent publication of David Hendrick's column on medical expense reimbursement plans, I think I have found some closure on a project involving these unique health benefit plans. For the past few years, I have worked with Stephen Geri, the principal at Diversified Insurance Brokerage Service, to get an article with David.

Two weeks ago, Hendricks did a great job of describing the benefit of MERPs and how Hero Logistics, a San Antonio Toyota supplier, is saving money through the use of this unique insurance product in his column.

Here's David column in case you missed it:

David Hendricks: Plan lets firms cut health costs
Web Posted: 04/18/2007 10:40 PM CDT
San Antonio Express-News
Companies like to offer gold-plated health-care insurance plans, but not when premiums rise faster than employers can afford.
Does a company pay the higher premiums? Or do they reduce the premiums by agreeing to higher deductibles, which would increase employees' out-of-pocket expenses?
A rarely used third option can be used, especially by small companies struggling to keep their benefits competitive with other employers.
It's called a Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan, or MERP.
Instead of paying higher premiums at renewal time, a company could raise deductibles for such high-cost claims as operations and hospitalizations.
News link
Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan
That kind of decision can lower premium costs dramatically. For example, a company with 20 covered employees can save $800 a month.
Companies selecting the higher deductibles could set aside the $9,600 in annual premium savings, or any amount it wishes, into a MERP account.
When an employee or covered dependent needs hospitalization or an operation, the deductible would change from $250 to $1,000. The MERP account allows the company to cover the extra $750 in deductible costs.
At the end of the year, the company's surplus of unused MERP funds can be applied to the following year's premiums, or the balance may be forwarded into the next year's account. Either way, the company saves money.
The result is that both the company and the employee lower their premium costs. MERP funds and the accrued interest remain tax-deductible to the company as long as the dollars eventually are applied to health claims or insurance premiums.
Health-care plans with deductibles as high as $2,500 or $5,000 are available.
The risk comes when employee deductibles total more than funds set aside. Among policies nationwide, however, only 5.8 percent of employees ever maximize their deductibles. That alone indicates the extravagant cost for low-deductible health-care insurance plans.
Two Toyota supplier companies recently switched to MERP plans administered by Diversified Employee Benefit Services Inc. in San Antonio.
HERO Logistics, with nearly 200 workers, and HERO Assemblers, which soon will employ 40 people, switched to a MERP plan this year.
"The plan is transparent to the workers," said Ray Romero, president of HERO Assemblers and vice president of the logistics firm. The workers do not notice the difference because their deductibles remain at $250 even though the company bought a $1,000 deductible plan.
Companies could administer their own MERP accounts. However, most will choose to hire an outside administrator to manage the fund, partially to avoid possible lawsuits alleging bias or mismanagement.
In a way, MERP plans are like flexible spending plans that many employees maintain with their own money. In a flexible spending plan, employees divert a certain amount of dollars from each paycheck, free of income taxes, into a fund to cover medical expenses that insurance does not cover.
With a MERP, the company covers those higher deductibles instead of having the employees do it.
"The beauty of the MERP is that the employer controls the dollars," said Stephen Geri, managing general agent of Diversified Employee Benefit Services.
Romero said workers do not choose an employer for its MERP. "Just having a good plan is what matters," he said.
To the extent that a MERP can help an employer maintain a "good plan," it can give a company a competitive edge by holding down costs.

The history of the Potato Fiesta pix

Inspired by attending the San Antonio Fiesta's "A Taste of New Orleans" two weeks ago, my 15-year-old daughter, Kate and I created this special crown for the potato. Few realized that in 2008, this modest veggie is the "UN Vegetable of the Year." So, knowing that a few of our favorite restaurants serve bland French fried potatos, we thought it was best to build a campaign around great recipes featuring my client Twang and their line of seasonings with the simple spud. After all, the world's top veggie deserves a little spice, especially Twang's chili-limon seasoning.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Five copies for my mother

One of the golden rules in public relations is that you try to stay in the background as much as possible. However, on Tuesday, there was my picture in the San Antonio Express News. And yes, I am going to have to send a copy to my mother because the online version of the article doesn't include the pix.

On another note, I was glad to see such a great story for my newest client, BroadRamp. They have some unique technology that they are only scratching the surface in terms of publicity. I look forward to working the challenges of helping them along with my other clients.

And if you have an extra copy of Tuesday's Express News with the business section (not reserved for your bird or puppy in training), please send those extra copies of your paper to Martha Scherer at 21 Ridge Drive, Decatur, Illinois.

My 75-year-old Mom still has my clips from my days as the sports editor for the high school and for my tour of duty with the ISU Vidette. She'll add it to my scrapbook after she shows all the ladies at the local Eagle grocery.

On another note, I am amazed at how many people don't know about Captain Hook and the Medicine Show.

So for those of you who don't remember 1972, here's a recap of that great song:

(Shel Silverstein) Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show - 1972Ha, ha, ha, I don't believe itDa, da, ah, ooh, don't touch meHey, Ray!Hey, Sugar!Tell them who we are .....Well, we're big rock singersWe've got golden fingersAnd we're loved everywhere we go (that sounds like us)We sing about beauty and we sing about truthFor ten-thousand dollars a show (right)We take all kinds of pills that give us all kind of thrillsBut the thrill we've never knownIs the thrill that'll get ya when you get your pictureOn the cover of the Rolling Stone(Rolling Stone) Wanna see my picture on the cover(Stone)Wanna buy five copies for my mother (yeah)(Stone)Wanna see my smilin' faceOn the cover of the Rolling Stone (that's a very, very, good idea)I got a freaky ole lady name a cocaine KatyWho embroideries on my jeansI got my poor old grey haired daddyDrivin' my limosineNow, it's all designed to blow our mindsBut our minds won't really be blownLike the blow that'll get ya when you get your pictureOn the cover of the Rolling Stone(Rolling Stone) Wanna see our pictures on the cover(Stone) Wanna buy five copies for our mothers (yeah)(Stone) Wanna see my smilin' faceOn the cover of the Rolling Stone(Hey, I know how, rock and roll!!)[Freaky Guitar Break](Ah, that's beautiful)We got a lot of little teenage blue-eyed groupiesWho do anything we sayWe got a genuine Indian GuruWho's teaching us a better wayWe got all the friends that money can buySo we never have to be aloneAnd we keep getting richer but we can't get our pictureOn the cover of the Rolling Stone(Rolling Stone) Wanna see my picture on the cover(Stone) Wanna buy five copies for my mother (I want one!)(Stone) Wanna see my smilin' faceOn the cover of the Rolling StoneOn the cover of the Rolling Stone(Man, I don't know why we ain't on the cover, Baby)(We're beautiful people)(I ain't kiddin', why, we would make a beautiful cover(Fresh shot, right up front, man)(I can see it now, we'll be up on the front)(Smilin', man ...... ahh, beautiful!)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

What all fries deserve is a little Twang

Few people realize it just yet, but the United Nations has decreed that 2008 is the "International Year of the Potato." As the publicist for Twang, I am going to help the media discover that the simple spud is such an important veggie. And, my goal is to convince them that all potatos should have some simple Twang seasoning especially with French fries and a burger. pixes ready

The pictures for the are now complete. Ruben Barron completed the work to help me get the buzz going on this facial recognition security program in the trades and other specialty publications. The model is my oldest (step)daughter, Jen, who has been recently accepted to law school at Mercer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Helping MDI to help educate the public on educational security

Mike Garcia is one of my oldest clients and one of those guys who I truly consider as a friend, so when he called me at 7:45 a.m. I knew it had to do with the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Mike and I have already been working in the educational security space with some trade publications for MDI Security, but this was an opportunity to tell our story to the local media. In the course of one day, we were able to do the following:

1) Get both WOAI and KTSA to do radio interview on the topic;

2) Get KENS 5 and KSAT 12 to do interviews with us;

3) Mangage a 15-minute segment with the Thompson Brothers on WOAI 1200 radio;

4) Arrange an interview with Bill Zalud at Security Magazine and arrange for a webinar on campus security.

Back in the days of our work with SecureInfo, we often called each other when the media reported about viruses and other concerns. It was not uncommon for one of us to call the other guy at 4 a.m. and start working on setting up media interviews. And, with the local media, many of the guys I called at the early hour have advanced to news directors jobs at their stations, so it was easier for us to get through to the decision makers.

Still, after all these years of working with Mike, I learned something today. And that was that it's always important to help visiting media understand the story in full before even doing an interview. Mike or I, with the help of his staff, showed the media how MDI had helped clients like the San Diego ISD with educational security platforms before doing any interviews. That helped the media understand the story before they talked to our selected experts. As we were waiting to go on the air with Jason and Rob Thompson, we talked with an MDI affiliate who said they had problems with a story in another part of the country. An electronic media type had thought that this company was already doing work with Virginia Tech. They of course led the story on their local newscast with the "a local company is already doing work with Virginia Tech...." story.

So, I learned the importance of making sure the media understood the story before having them do the interviews. At times, it took Mike and I an hour to complete the background before giving the reporter/cameraman the interview. While I have not seen the stories done on MDI yet, my phone isn't ringing either.

And finally, here's a kudo to Mike Garcia. Anytime you can do an interview with the Thompson Brothers and keep 85-percent for your message is a major accomplishment.

Sadly, this story is ongoing, and I hope that we can convey to major decision makers the better processes to help secure college campuses. My 18-year-old so Pete is going to be a freshman this fall at Lamar. Meanwhile, my almost 22-year old step daughter, Jen, is going to law school (she has already been accepted at Mercer). So, I have a vested interest in helping keep them and my younger, Kate, a 15-year old freshman safe from the kinds of tragedies that are occurring more and more frequently.

So which one is the best picture for our media campaign?

I just got these photos of my step daughter, Jen, from Ruben (aka Little Ruben) Barron for my review. I like them so much I had to share them on my blog. I like this one the best, but I wanted to share the rest so that the rest of Jen's immediate family and friends can advise me on the best. Ruben likes the bottom one, but I am more partial to the upper one. However, you can tell me what you think by sending your votes to:

Note: When shooting these pictures, I had to kick her mother, Jackie, off the set for distracting Jen. Once her mother left the set, we got some great pictures.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Shooting photos for new biometric client.

My client,, is getting ready to launch a new public relations campaign about its personal biometric security for laptops. Today, I used my oldest daughter, Jennifer, to pose for some new pictures. Jen, who just got accepted to law school at Mercer, posed for the pictures with the help of Ruben Barron. I think Ruben is one of the best illustrators at his craft, and I can't wait to see the end results which will have the idfend logo placed into Jen's laptop. Knowing Ruben's work, I know I will be most impressed. And, Jen did a great job as the model for this shoot.

Monday, April 9, 2007

SATAI -- after action report

As the publicist for the SATAI awards banquet, I had to keep an embargo on a lot of my work especially the names of the honorees. In short, I couldn't even mention what I was doing in this blog. Now that the event is over, I want to reflect on my work in the PR and the video I help create.

PR: When you can get the Express News and the San Antonio Business Journal to work together, that's pretty impressive especially for an awards banquet. Kudos to both Catherine Dominguez and Susan Sapporito for their work at the Business Journal and to Laura Lorek at the Express News for her great article on David Spencer, the 2007 SATAI Tech Hero of the Year. I also got great coverage from WOAI and KTSA. And, I have the chance to work with Randy Beamer on more and more technology stuff.

Video: The audience seem to love the John Dickson tribute video that my team put together. I had to miss Florida winning their second national title, but it was worth it to hear the response from the folks who saw the video. Kudos to David "Maxx" Villarreal for his sharp shooting and editing work.

I'm glad that the SATAI banquet is over, but I hope that I will continue to work with them to promote technology in my adopted hometown of San Antonio.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Keith Frederick set to speak in April's TASA meeting

Keith Frederick, the founder of SecureInfo, has agreed to speak to TASA on April 19 at the Bright Shawl. I consider Keith to be the "godfather" of the cyber technology movement in San Antonio. Regardless of your computer usage, it's worth a chance to hear him speak on this topic.

Working with Mad "MAXX" on top secret video was a treat.

Ever work around the clock for about 30 hours and then wake up from a short power nap. That's a good way to describe my work this week. I just finished the second of two video productions for the SATAI Network. While protocol and good common sense dictates that I can give much in the way of details, the video was a testimony to someone on SATAI's board and their efforts to help promote technology. The best part of the whole program was working with David "Maxx" Villarreal, perhaps one of the best shooters in the area. Maxx is one of those guys who you can allow to take things over in his area of expertise and he delivers results. Pure and simple, if you need a good video guy, Maxx is your man.