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Volume 7, Issue 1        January/February 2005

"American Gothic Auto Glass"
Nebraska-Based Couple Helps Glass Shops Collect From Insurers
by Brigid O'Leary

Rick Hartman used to raise livestock. Exotic livestock. Now the Nebraska couple is involved in a different type of exotic business. Together with his wife Lynn, Hartman has developed a program to help independent glass shops get paid promptly and without short pays.

The Hartmans own and operate an independent billing company in Nebraska that caters to the independent auto glass shop and is making waves in the industry both among glass shops and the insurance companies.

“We’re not under the radar screen anymore, so to speak,” said Rick Hartman. “[The insurance companies] are very much aware of what we do and how we go about doing what we do.”

How They Do What They Do
What they do, exactly, is provide a number of different services to independent glass shops. First, they help with billing.

“There are a lot of small glass shops across the states—even mid-sized and larger—that don’t want to use the personnel to try to run through the gauntlet on insurance. They don’t have time or personnel to keep calling and saying, ‘wait a second,’ because some claims fall through the cracks,” Lynn Hartman explained in a telephone interview. “We know more about the insurance laws, we know more about how the insurance company’s think [than the glass shops do].”

The Hartmans know the system well enough, in fact, to help glass companies collect on short pays, and to offer a start to finish billing service in which they will work the claims from the time the claim is submitted and sending the bills in, through the end stages of getting the money back out to the glass shop. So much so that Neon has just signed an exclusive deal with the Independent Glass Association to help members collect short pays at a reduced rate (see box). They even help smaller companies handle credit card payments from clients. 

“With hidden fees, if you take credit cards, there is an initial transaction fee, there’s the batch fee, the monthly fee, the rental fee, minimum payment fees,” Lynn explained. “We offer [a service that] if small companies don’t want to have to deal all that or face the nightmarish end-of-month credit card statement balancing, they can keep their normal billing cycle and if they have a credit card come in, they call us up and we take the credit card over the phone and send them out the money.”

The Hartmans have also set up what they call a “Quick Pay” program. Designed to help shops that are having cash flow or credit problems with wholesalers, the program allows glass shops to submit a claim to Neon, get paid at a discounted rate and have that claim automatically placed into the short pay program. 

“They get some cash up front to help with cash flow or help them out if wholesalers no longer feel they are a good enough credit risk that they want to extend them credit. That wholesaler is guaranteed we will get them paid, the money will go to them,” Lynn detailed. 

The Hartmans are also licensed independent and public adjusters and insurance consultants.

Why They Do What They Do
Starting off in the AGR industry, Lynn did public relations work for a glass company. A particular insurance company in their home state (which the Hartmans declined to name) was using “most of networks that were available—LYNX, Harmon, Safelite and Alliance.”

Noticing that working through the networks seemed to create difficulties for her client, Lynn approached the head of claims, asking if the company would consider letting glass shop file directly, rather than using the networks. The head of claims said no, but told Lynn that if she created a company for the glass shops to use, he would allow them to go that route. Inquiring what the purpose of the networks were, the Hartmans were told that networks helped insurance companies shift the cost of administrative work, made the insurance industry more efficient and watch for fraud. If that was all the company was looking for, the Hartmans felt they could provide all of that and took up the challenge put to them. They started a third party administrative business in 1999 and have made Neon a grass-roots hub in Beatrice, Nebraska for glass shops looking for help and a sympathetic ear. The insurance company allowed glass shops to choose which network they used, and within six months Neon was handling more than 80 percent of the company’s claims.

“Glass companies found we were sticking to those three things. It didn’t affect them as far as [insurance company] efficiency and administration, but we could be open with glass companies if all we were looking for was fraud. We did not have any reason to steer; we didn’t know how a big point that was for the glass shops,” Lynn said.

The glass shops began opening up to Neon, coming in with concerns as far as unreasonable pay for particular jobs and certain situations and the Hartmans would help get the shop a more reasonable pay.

“We feel that when we have fair and reasonable [charge], no one is going to be absolutely ecstatic, but everyone will feel that ‘this is okay, I can live with it,’” Lynn explained.

The Steering Issue
Neither Rick nor Lynn realized the importance of the steering issue to glass shops when they first started working as an intermediary between insurance companies and glass shops. When asked what the biggest issue facing the auto glass industry is right now, Lynn thought for a moment before answering that they seem to address steering more often. She quickly clarified, however, that it has only been recently that they noticed a significant increase in the complaints about steering over pricing.

“In the last 6 months, from what the glass shops are calling into us, [it’s] steering,” she said. “We’ve become a bit of a center hub and when a glass shop gets frustrated or have a problem, it’s not unusual for them to call Neon and see what we’ve got to say. Between August and September there seems to have been a dramatic jump. Before then, [the biggest problem] was tied between steering and pricing.”

As the role of Neon has expanded to include different types of billing services and working with more insurance companies and glass shops—though located in Nebraska, they work with glass shops across the country—so has the role the Hartmans play in the overall AGR industry.

Taking up the cause before legislative bodies across the state, the couple is pushing for education across the board: for the public, the insurers, the third party administrators and even the glass shops.

“There were shops at meetings earlier this year talking about urethaning butyl tape,” Lynn explained over the phone as Rick drove them to a legislative meeting they were to attend. “Education is required everywhere, whether it be to the public for their safety, to the glass shops because there is no licensing that requires them to know what constitutes a safe installation, whether it’s insurance companies who don’t understand what goes into glass replacement ... there needs to be more education: public wise, glass company wise, insurance company wise, legislation wise.” 

Brigid O’Leary is the outgoing editor of AGRR magazine.


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