AMERIND Risk: Protecting Tribes, Employees and Indian Country
AMERIND Risk is not your average insurance company. It's the only 100-percent Tribally owned insurance solutions provider, and it is based in Indian country, in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico.
"Our competitors may have Tribal names, but they are owned by Wall Street investors," AMERIND Risk COO, Dennis McCann told Indian Country Today Media Network.
AMERIND Risk specializes in providing property, liability, and workers' compensation insurance for Tribes, Tribal governments, businesses, and individuals. It is a Public Entity Risk Pool, but unlike the other 500 or more risk pool insurance carriers in the United States, AMERIND is the only one that focuses on Tribal governments and their affiliated businesses.
"AMERIND Risk is a unique facility in the Tribal insurance space," McCann said. "AMERIND is owned by over 400 federally recognized Tribes. We provide competitive solutions, relative to our competition, for all aspects of your Tribal property/casualty insurance program."
Through cost-effective risk management and risk pooling to protect life and property in Indian country, small- to medium-sized Tribes can enjoy the same benefits that large Tribes get through self-funding, for catastrophic loss protection.
In addition, as a Tribally owned company, AMERIND can protect and defend Tribal sovereignty. AMERIND believes Tribal governments and businesses should not be limited to the State Statutory Workers’ Compensation provided through corporate insurance companies.
"Unlike commercial insurers, AMERIND Risk is a Section 17, Federal Corporation. We enjoy the sovereignty of our chartering Tribes," McCann explained. "Commercial insurers will agree to arbitration, but only in state courts. We, as a sovereign entity, agree to arbitration, but we insist on Tribal courts."
AMERIND's exceptional Tribal Workers' Compensation program has helped the company grow its client base by 200 percent in the past two years. Workplace safety education, prevention and loss control are the cornerstones of its business. AMERIND performs on-site inspections to assess equipment and problem areas to avoid potential accidents, and AMERIND trains employees in safety protocol and emergency management, at no additional cost to the policyholder.
"Our safety services team has a budget equal to 7 percent of our overall budget. If you look at regular insurance companies, safety probably amounts to 2 percent of their budget," AMERIND Risk CEO, Derek Valdo, Acoma Pueblo Council member, told ICTMN.
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AMERIND is particularly invested in raising awareness of fire safety. Over the course of AMERIND's 29 years of performing in Indian country, 72 percent of the more than $385 million in claims paid by AMERIND have been fire-related. In response, AMERIND has hosted a fire safety poster contest for youth, every year for the last 22 years.
"Tribal young people will be Tribal homeowners, employees and leaders," Valdo said. "If we can educate them, prepare them and plant a seed when they're young, that seed will stick and change their behaviors and outcomes."
AMERIND's workers' compensation product is not just advantageous to Tribal governments and businesses, it's great for employees. AMERIND pays all covered, valid and collectable claims. In 2014, the company's claim payments totaled $19,801,225. In 2013, they totaled $16,296,978.
The company also goes beyond the call of duty to make sure employees or their families receive their fair settlement. Valdo offered one particular example when AMERIND adjusted its policy to better fit a Tribal employee's circumstances.
When an employee of an AMERIND Risk Tribal client unfortunately died in an accident in California, "the state death benefits were payable to no one, because he had no relatives and no surviving spouse," Valdo said. "But we knew he was cohabitating with someone. We put in a common law exception, because we thought it was the right thing to do for the employee and for the Tribe. Our product is very flexible and sensitive to the needs of the Tribe."
Another AMERIND Risk system in place is the use of an independent hearing examiner, paid for by AMERIND, if an injured employee is denied by AMERIND adjustors. "It gives the employee reassurance that if they are denied, they're given proper due process," Valdo said. "I don't believe our competitors do that."
Recently, in addition to the property, liability and workers' compensation insurance that AMERIND Risk has provided Indian country for nearly 30 years, it has started offering solutions for employee benefits.
In February 2015, AMERIND Risk acquired TWG Insurance and Financial Services to extend employee benefits to AMERIND Members nationwide. TWG heralds a decade of success serving the minority market space in the Southwest. Their partnership created a new division dubbed AMERIND Benefits.
AMERIND Benefits delivers core and voluntary products—like health, dental, vision, short- and long-term disability, accident plans, cancer insurance, and more—through proprietary plans with many carriers. It also designs comprehensive insurance plans, paying close attention to Affordable Care Act standards for compliance, and offers customized financial services such as retirement/investment packages for Tribal governments and businesses.
AMERIND Benefits' main objective is to negotiate and implement the best program for each individual Tribal customer, recognizing that they are all different. "With 566 federally recognized tribes, one size does not fit all," Valdo said. "We have a wealth of contracts available and can match a Tribe's risk appetite and safety culture with the best program."
AMERIND Benefits prides itself on its streamlined implementation through green, paperless technology and personalized consultation. "We sit down with every employee—face to face or on the web—to help them understand how their benefits coordinate with Indian Health Services, and to inform them about their access to proprietary programs and wellness benefits," said Angela Rodgers-Hesch, TWG founder and agency director.
AMERIND Benefits focuses on workplace health education, because employee absence can cut roughly 36 percent of a company's payroll.
"What we've seen overtime is that [preventative healthcare education] lowers the cost of insurance for the company. Claims are lowered when employees are happy and healthier," Rodgers-Hesch said.
Because 80 percent of employees in Tribal companies are Native American, AMERIND has proprietary programs that are very culturally sensitive. "For example, Presbyterian has agreed to reimburse traditional healers—and that's not like writing a check to a doctor," Valdo explained. "If you go to a medicine man, you don't pay in cash, you pay in tobacco, corn meal, or food to feed their spirits. We've gotten a couple carriers to acknowledge that form of payment for services received."
This year, AMERIND Risk is nearing the half-million mark for annual donations. "We pump a significant amount of dollars back to Indian-controlled nonprofits to improve all lives in Indian country," Valdo said.
One outreach effort close to Valdo's heart is the annual AMERIND All West Native American Basketball Classic tournament co-hosted with United Native American Housing Association and Great Plains Tribes in Denver, Colorado. This year AMERIND’s support helped to provide six, $4,000 college scholarships to Native American youth who participated in the program.
"About 15 years ago there was a high rate of suicide in many of the communities, and this is our fourteenth year being the main sponsor of the tournament intended to help prevent suicide. It's making significant strides with at-risk Native youth," Valdo said. AMERIND is also the only Native American insurance company that makes many contributions to the Native American Rights Fund and the National Congress of American Indians.
Created in 1986 by over 400 Tribes to protect Tribes, AMERIND Risk never loses sight of its greater mission to reinvest in Indian country and promote Tribal growth and sustainability. "Tribes will survive by sticking together," Valdo said.
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