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United to add 50 jobs at center Town of Tonawanda site employs 500

The head of UnitedHealth Group's New York insurance plan said Monday that the carrier plans to add another 50 jobs to its Town of Tonawanda customer service and claims center over the next two months as the company was honored for customer satisfaction.

That's on top of about 100 jobs United has added locally in the past year, since it put its own name on the building in Colvin Woods formerly occupied by Definity Health, which United acquired. Officials are not projecting job plans into 2009.

The jobs to be added by year-end represent an increase of 10 percent in staffing locally for the parent of United Healthcare of New York, which already employs more than 500 workers at its facility here. Both customer service and claims jobs will be available at the center, which services members from throughout New York, as well as from other markets around the country.

"When we find an area that is high-performing, we try to grow it," said William Golden, chief executive officer of United Healthcare of New York, during an interview.

He was confident in the company's ability to fill those slots. "I don't think we have a shortage of folks looking for positions at United Healthcare," he said.

Golden was at the Tonawanda site Monday to formally accept an award for the company from J.D. Power & Associates for being ranked highest in member satisfaction among commercial health insurers in the entire state. The award was announced in June.

Golden, who is based in New York, chose to receive it in Tonawanda instead of downstate, citing the call center here, which is one of largest of the company's 14 U.S. service centers.

"There was no better place to accept an award for member satisfaction than at an area that provides it on a day-to-day basis," he said.

Because of the performance of the office, many of United Healthcare's clients, which includes Target Corp., like to be serviced out of Tonawanda, he said. "When that happens, you have to add staff to maintain the level of service you're winning awards for," he said.

Like many insurers, UnitedHealth has been cautioning Wall Street about its enrollment numbers because the nation's economic woes could dampen growth. That's not only from individual customers or employers dropping healthcare coverage but also because employers who do stick with United also are laying off staff.

This is especially a concern for large and middle-market companies that use United, and especially in the New York metro area, where financial services companies and suppliers have been hard hit by the slowdown and layoffs.

Even so, Golden said the company is still confident that it would be able to add jobs here, at least through the year-end projections. The company employs 3,367 in New York and 70,000 people overall.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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