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UnitedHealth Group, the nation's No. 2 health insurer, is adding 80 more jobs to its Tonawanda workforce by year-end. Those hires will be in addition to 70 it has added since January - including nurses - and 125 hired last year, company executives announced Tuesday.
That's 150 new jobs in 2012 and 275 in two years, driving the total staff at its facility on Colvin Woods Boulevard to more than 700 by the end of this year. It's now one of the largest and fastest-growing employers in the Town of Tonawanda.
"UnitedHealthcare is excited about the Tonawanda and Buffalo region as an employer and business partner, and we welcome the opportunity to be a key driver in the region's growth," said William Golden, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual of New York.
"Our employees in Western New York consistently deliver high-quality, customer-centric support to individuals and businesses throughout New York state and across the country, making this a key region for business expansion as the company continues to grow."
UnitedHealth's facility, formerly Definity Health, handles inbound customer-service telephone calls, processes claims and helps customers manage chronic or other medical conditions through a staff of nurse case managers. Its current workforce of just more than 600 includes about 70 clinical case managers, with the rest split between customer service and claims.
The 150 new positions for the full year are in all three categories, with about 75 in customer service, 25 in care management and the rest in claims.
"We have significant goals ahead of us," Golden said at a news conference, with more than 50 people in attendance, including Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer and other politicians. "We continue to focus on keeping and hiring employees."
And Schumer noted that "these are not low-paying, minimum-wage jobs," citing the average starting salary for call centers of $33,000 a year. "These are not just jobs where you get on the phones and try to get someone to buy something. They are part of our future in Western New York," he said at the news conference.
"A call center is the heart and soul of an insurance company. These jobs are going to be like medicine, breathing new life into the Town of Tonawanda and Western New York," he said.
Based in Minnetonka, Minn., UnitedHealth serves more than 38 million people nationwide and contracts for medical care with more than 650,000 physicians and 5,000 hospitals across the country.
In New York state, UnitedHealth serves more than 3.8 million residents, with a provider network that includes more than 230 hospitals and 43,500 physicians. Coupled with its Kingston, N.Y., facility and other operations in the state, the company will employ more than 4,000 in the state by year-end after it adds the jobs in Tonawanda and others in Kingston.
"In Buffalo, the glass is half-full and getting more filled up by the day," Duffy said. "There are things happening everywhere. It creates more investor confidence in New York State."
The facility, located on a 30-acre site in a Ciminelli Real Estate project, opened in April 2005, after UnitedHealth had acquired the former Definity Health, which had employed as many as 340 in Amherst at the consumer-driven health care company.
The center boasts a 93 percent customer satisfaction rate, with 94 percent of all calls handled and resolved the first time, Golden said.
"Since 2005, the Tonawanda center has evolved from a call center to a multi-service facility," he said. "The site is the foundation of our business in Western New York, and we are committed to growing our operations and bringing quality care to our customers."
Last year, when Hurricane Irene pummeled the Eastern Seaboard, Tonawanda handled rerouted calls from other UnitedHealth facilities in areas affected by the storm, doubling its own call volume but enabling the company to maintain service.
"I'm very proud of the work our employees do, day in and day out," said site leader Karen Bogdan.
Schumer praised UnitedHealth for "having faith in" and investing in Western New York, and for recognizing the region's benefits for operating call centers - lots of low-cost, affordable office space; a dedicated, hardworking labor force; and, he said, among the lowest turnover rates, because Western New Yorkers appreciate the value of a job.

email: jepstein@buffnews.com