5 ways advisers can effectively communicate with Congress

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In late June, Tom Harte, president of Hampstead, N.H.-based Landmark Benefits, testified in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on how the Affordable Care Act is impacting businesses and their employees. Harte, president of the National Association of Health Underwriters from 2013-2014, talked with EBA about his experience.

EBA: What brought you to Capitol Hill?

Harte: The National Association of Health Underwriters has a long standing history of developing influential relationships in Washington, D.C. When presented the opportunity to submit a name for consideration to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, NAHU submitted my name for the consideration of the committee. The purpose of this hearing was for members of the committee to listen to experts on how the Affordable Care Act is impacting businesses and their employees.

It is without question that the testimony would not have been so successful without Marcy Buckner’s — NAHU’s vice president of government affairs — outstanding preparation and delivery of our written testimony. As a NAHU member and past president of the association, I am grateful for the tireless efforts of NAHU staff members in support our industry.

EBA: What were the highlights of your statement/interactions with committee members?

Harte: Most importantly, it was an honor to represent our industry and share the challenges that each of us is facing professionally with regard to cost increases, access to care, government regulation, taxes/fees, etc. Of greatest importance in the testimony was the opportunity to convey to the HELP committee that health insurance is expensive because healthcare is expensive.

To demonstrate the impact of healthcare on health plan premiums, the verbal testimony explained to the committee that ACA determined that 80% to 85% of healthcare costs is required to pay for healthcare costs; however, the overwhelming majority of legislative efforts are focused on the 15% to 20% of premium that pays for administrative costs.

The committee members were all genuinely interested in the experience of our clients that have been faced with significant rate increases and a continued lack of access to transparency tools. Following the meeting, several Senate staff members contacted our offices to request additional information on many topics discussed during the testimony.

EBA: How many times have you testified?

Harte: This was my second opportunity to testify before the Senate HELP committee. My first testimony was in July of 2015. Much of our commentary for the 2015 hearing was focused on the impact of taxes on health insurance premiums to include but not limited to the following: Cadillac tax/excise tax, health insurance provider and medical device tax. Shortly following the hearing, Congress passed legislation to impact each of these taxes with delays, suspensions and moratoriums.

As a result of our recent testimony , the House of Representatives extended an invitation to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee. This hearing will specifically review premium increases imposed on employers since the implementation of ACA. It is expected that our testimony will demonstrate to the committee that health plan premiums continue to escalate at an alarming rate and that ACA has not done enough to impact the underlying cost of healthcare.

EBA: What happens as a result of your testimony?

Harte: It is without question that members of Congress are concerned with the continued challenges with the health insurance. With any testimony before a committee with other panelists, the Senate is encouraging professionals to deliver solutions from the industry that may have a favorable impact on health insurance plans. It is a reasonable expectation that both the House and Senate will review these comments with the intention of making improvements to for the clients we represent in the market.

EBA: Is testifying beneficial?

Harte: Absolutely. It is without question that agents and brokers have a greater understanding of the impact of ACA on their clients that most other professions. This opportunity to testify before this distinguished committee provides the opportunity to communicate that our clients are faced with significant premium increases, limited networks, reduced plan options, higher out-of-pocket expenses, and reduced prescription benefits. It is always more beneficial to be heard; it is not beneficial for us to be silent.

Despite the chance to impact daily decision making on critical healthcare, employee benefit and broker industry issues, many politically active advisers agree they are among just 10% of brokers who are involved in local and national politics. EBA presents leading brokers in each region of the country who are actively working to change the industry.
December 30

EBA: Advice to other brokers who may be thinking about this?

Harte: First, agents and brokers should accept the responsibility to speak with their members of Congress to discuss the challenges they witness with their own clients. Member of Congress desperately want to hear from professionals; however, my advice is as follows:

  • It is not about you. Members of Congress will have greater interest when you advocate on behalf of others.
  • Do your homework. It is imperative that you understand all of the current events and legislation.
  • Don’t guess. If you don’t have the answer, that is OK. You can advise your members of Congress that you will forward the answer to any outstanding questions.
  • Bring the data. Members of Congress prefer to see the evidence that supports your commentary. In our testimony, we presented the committee with actual client rate increases and cost of healthcare services.
  • Join NAHU. Every year NAHU hosts a Capitol Conference, where members of NAHU are invited to meet with their members of Congress to discuss the health insurance issues and challenges. With over 600 professionals attending this conference, our collective impact during this week is significant. You are either in the game or on the sideline — it’s your choice.
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