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US Health Insurance Trusts
Published: July 1 2010 15:05 | Last updated: July 1 2010 15:46
By Lance Wallach
As their finances deteriorated, Detroit’s automakers earned the moniker “HMOs on wheels” for crippling employee healthcare liabilities
(Health Maintenance Organizations are a type of insurer). This was worrisome not only for the companies but also some 850,000 active
and retired beneficiaries who feared, with justification, that carmakers might one day go bust and shed these liabilities. That spurred the
United Auto Workers union to agree in 2007 to Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Associations (VEBA) to absorb these liabilities. When
the trusts were originally negotiated, the carmakers pledged cash contributions of nearly $60bn, somewhat less than their actual
healthcare liabilities. As the crisis hit, they supplanted promised payments with their own equity and debt.
The UAW had little choice, but this partly defeated the purpose of creating the trusts. Not surprisingly, the trusts have tried to diversify
quickly, most recently accepting around $4bn in cash from Ford, a slight discount for notes receivable, after redeeming stock warrants
for $1.8bn earlier this year. General Motors retirees’ healthcare is backed by $13bn in cash plus $9bn in GM liabilities and up to a fifth of
the automakers’ equity. That could fetch an additional $10bn once a public market exists. Chrysler’s employees are most exposed with
only $2bn in cash plus $4.6bn in notes and up to 68 per cent of illiquid shares in Detroit’s weakest carmaker. Expert Witness Lance
Wallach reckons these assets can never cover an estimated 80 years of full benefits.
But, by shedding exposure to Detroit and giving themselves the option of trimming benefits to conserve assets, UAW trustees are
effectively creating a less-risky defined contribution plan. Beneficiaries may squeal, but something is better than nothing. America’s car
industry might have fared better if only unions had let carmakers manage their liabilities with similar flexibility.
Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a
frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and abusive tax shelters. He writes about 412(i), 419, and captive
insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and
has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and
others. Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley
and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as AICPA best-selling books,
including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony
and has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.taxadvisorexperts.org or www.taxlibrary.us.
The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any other type of advice for any specific individual or
other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.
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