Hundreds of National Association of Health Underwriters members attending the organization's 81st annual convention June 26-29 were treated to a round of "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey as the convention kicked off in San Antonio - setting the stage for the positive outlook promoted by NAHU throughout the event.During the opening session Steven Selinsky, outgoing NAHU president, described the encouragement he found in traveling the country to talk with fellow agents who were emerging as leaders in their state and local associations.

Although the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act creates uncertainty in the minds of those in the health insurance field, both NAHU CEO Janet Trautwein and Selinsky remained optimistic and agreed they couldn't be more excited about the future of agents and NAHU members. "I feel great about it," said Trautwein.

Attendee Thomas R. Aslesen of Accord Benefit Resources Inc., based in Plymouth, Minn., found it reassuring to hear Trautwein reinforce the message that there remains a significant role for the agent in today's marketplace. "Every time that you look at a conflict or a difficult situation it always comes back around to the fact that people are relying on their broker for counsel and advice, helping them navigate through this complicated system of health care reform and with health insurance in general," said Aslesen, a 33-year industry veteran.


Lessons learned

In a presentation based on selling concepts, keynote speaker Theo Androus recalled the influential people in his life - both positive and negative. He used the story of noticing a crooked painting behind his banker's desk and how she was not bothered by it because she couldn't see it to remind brokers to constantly be perceptive of how their customers perceive their business operations. "What would you see if you sat in the seat of your customer? What is the perspective from where your customer sits about the work you do?" he asked the audience.

Androus urged the room full of agents and consultants to go through their own process; call their office, listen to their voicemail message, record conversations with clients and just listen to what their customer hears on a daily basis. His message: don't forget what it means to be a customer.

Another keynote speaker, Jason Young, a former manager with Southwest Airlines, shared lessons detailed in his book, "Culturetopia: The ultimate high-performance workplace," to provide an innovative approach to sustaining a high-performance workplace.

Young stressed to insurance agents in the field that how you behave is how you will be perceived; clients will not only judge you, but also your service. "They either stay loyal and they come back or they question you," said Young.

Barbara Sanfilippo, motivational speaker and partner with High Definition People, spoke during a strategic selling development workshop. She shared tips on how to be a trusted adviser and avoid four common sales pitfalls:

1) Delivering a presentation instead of diagnosing client needs

2) Neglecting to uncover the customer's pain or dream

3) Forgetting what you really sell. You do not just sell employee benefits and insurance products, you provide peace of mind and solve problems

4) Inadequately planning for a call

The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan established under health reform was also a hot topic. GEHA offers on its website an area where insurance agents can take part in a broker referral payment program. The agency plans to begin paying licensed agents and brokers a flat fee of $100 per enrolled applicant by October 1, according to Jay Angoff, director of the Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Meanwhile, Angoff recommended agents enter their name and email address on the site to receive more information when it becomes available.


Attendee reactions

Reflecting on the conference and where his business stands now, Bobby Finch, an agent with Colonial Life, felt his way of business has changed forever.

"There are going to be plenty of opportunities for us to still make a nice income in providing different products to our clients that we are currently servicing, but we have to be willing to be open and looking for those new avenues," said Finch. "We cannot just sit back and wait for HHS to tell us what the rules are, we are going to have to go out and help them create the new rules."

Janine Wilson, a third party administrator with Benefit Resource, attended credential tracking sessions where she received updates on the status of high deductible health plans. "It provided me with some updates of what is happening [with the plans] which was helpful," she said. Wilson also attended the "grow your board" session, since she is the president-elect of her local NAHU chapter.


2015 and beyond

During his farewell address, Selinsky shared the progress NAHU has made in developing a blueprint of goals for the organization to reach by 2015. "I really feel proud of our strategic plan since we took a whole different approach this year at NAHU," he said.

President of the Minnesota Association of Health Underwriters, Accord Benefit Resources' Aslesen is certainly confident about the future of NAHU. He developed his professional role as a legislative chair in the state and helped to educate legislators about the role that he and other NAHU members play in the health care system. "We have found a way to innovate, to be available and to be of service to our brokers and to the consumer," he said. "We bring the power of NAHU to our state legislators and impact them by saying, 'We represent a lot of people - millions of consumers - we know what we're talking about.'"


NAHU: NAIC task force right to endorse MLR bill

The National Association of Health Underwriters commends the June 30 decision of a National Association of Insurance Commissioners broker task force to endorse a bill in Congress that would provide state insurance regulators more freedom when it comes to the medical loss ratio implementation.

The bill, H.R. 1206, introduced in the House by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and John Barrow (D-Ga.), aims to remove brokers from the MLR calculation.

"This unprecedented action by the NAIC shows the commitment of our nation's insurance commissioners to protecting consumer and employer access to professional health insurance agents and brokers," says NAHU CEO Janet Trautwein.

Adds Mel Schlesinger, incoming NAHU president and EBA columnist, "NAIC coming out in favor of insurance agents is a very good thing."

At press time, it was up to the NAIC's executive committee to consider the task force's decision before the NAIC as a whole can officially support the bill.

"By hopefully having the NAIC endorse this, that kind of support should communicate something important to legislators," says Schlesinger.

The majority of insurance commissioners on the Professional Health Insurance Advisors Task Force voted in favor of the endorsement; West Virginia's outgoing insurance commissioner and 2010 president of NAIC, Jane L. Cline was opposed, while North Carolina Commissioner Wayne Goodwin abstained.

"People that deal with and regulate insurance understand the value of an insurance agent. If they don't remove agent commissions from the MLR [calculation] then that is going to really impact the ability of consumers to get high-quality insurance agents to help them make these decisions," adds Schlesinger.

In his opinion, once the federal government recognizes that it is hard to place consumers in high-risk pools and therefore resorts to paying agents for their expertise, "it should make them realize the challenge they are going to have getting people into the exchanges and the challenges people have with insurance in general," says Schlesinger.

Trautwein calls on Congress to heed the NAIC commission's recommendation and pass H.R. 1206.

"We also urge the Department of Health and Human Services to take immediate regulatory action by delaying enforcement of the MLR regulation," says Trautwein. — Marli D. Riggs

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