About 10% of brokers are doing close to 100% of the work when it comes to talking to legislators and decision makers who are writing and passing laws and regulations on the state and national level, brokers from across the country who are politically active say.
For those brokers that spend time talking with their legislators, it is a labor of love and they know the time they spend is making an impact. “I don’t enjoy politics, but I do enjoy healthcare policy,” says Mark Gaunya, co-owner and chief innovation officer at Methuen, Mass.-based Borislow Insurance. “I believe it is better to participate, to have a voice at the table.”
When he accepted an appointment from the Governor of Massachusetts to the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Health Connector in March 2015, on which he still sits, it was not because he wanted to serve on a government, board but because “I knew it would give [me] an opportunity to influence healthcare policy in our state,” Gaunya says.
In addition to his work on the Connector, Gaunya is past president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Underwriters, works with his local Chamber of Commerce and is an EBA advisory board member. “It is not work for me, it is a labor of love,” he says of his different responsibilities. “Finding the time is work but ultimately … it is not work. It is something I love to do.”
Across the country, Michael Lujan, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Limelight Health in San Francisco, was never a very political person. But now, as president of the California Association of Health Underwriters, “the ACA has moved many of us — folks like me — to be more involved because the law is more than just health policy and has moved into a space that is home for us,” he says. “Legislation that is intended to compliment, fix or clarify the ACA is happening it seems by the day.”
It is a story repeating across all 50 states. Still, most brokers do not engage politicians because they are too busy with their clients, says MD Sam Smith, president of Encino, Calif.-based Genesis Financial. “When I talk to them they tend to feel helpless,” he says of brokers in California. “They say, ‘What good is it going to do? I don’t have the extra time.’”
But Smith, immediate past-president of CAHU, says legislators are hungry for information, knowledge and experience. “But you can’t just call up when a bill is on their desk,” he says. “You have to build that relationship over time. Most of the staff are willing to talk with us.”
Do legislators listen?
Many brokers don’t spend time speaking with legislators because they believe legislators already have their mind made up. However, “when you are talking to an informed decision maker, the conversation is a lot different than an uninformed decision maker,” Gaunya says.
For example, Massachusetts’ new governor, Charlie Baker, is very receptive to talking to brokers because he is an expert in healthcare, Gaunya adds. Baker spent 10 years as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and was sworn in as governor of Massachusetts in January 2015.
Lujan tells a similar story in California. “The climate has changed quite a bit,” he says. “Our voice and the topics give us a lot more credibility and urgency.”
“By now, [legislators] know we have a clear perspective and hear us more as a consumer advocate than agent lobbyist,” Lujan adds. He points to defeating California Proposition 45, which would have required the state’s insurance commissioner to approve rate changes for individual and employer small-group plans, as an example of success.
“Prop 45 was a really big deal,” Lujan says. “Beating that took a lot of work. We rallied our resources to defeat that.”
The way the election system works, legislators rotate through a cycle so fast, they never get the chance to be experts, Smith explains. “We have to remain connected with them and be a resource for them,” he says. Otherwise, when bills come up and legislators are left to their own devices, “they can run amok,” he adds. “We have to be prepared to tell our story. The depth of understanding and knowledge of healthcare, especially in our legislature, is challenging at best.”
Once a relationship is built, “you can have an impact on legislation and policy as it being crafted,” says Ed Oleksiak, vice president of Holmes Murphy in Dallas and legislative council chair on the NAHU Board of Directors.. “[Legislators] are trying to digest many different subjects that are often complex. If they can find someone that can help them … it is very valuable.”
Being politically involved is an additional way to serve clients. “I have become a trusted resource for elected officials. I have their ears because I represent thousands of … consumers and can effectively relay real life issues,” says Ken Stevenson, vice president of the Earl Bacon Agency in Tallahassee, Fla., and president-elect of the Florida Association of Health Underwriters. “On the opposite side, my clients know I am expressing their views with the legislature and they can rely on me to be the bridge between them and our elected officials.”
More than a dozen politically-active brokers and folks in the insurance industry interviewed for this story estimate about 10% of brokers in each state are politically engaged.
Part of the problem may be that brokers do not clearly understand the political process, they say. For example, Lujan, who previously served as director of sales and marketing for California’s public exchange, Covered California, says that the exchange’s public meetings were a transparent process, “but unless folks were plugged into that theater and understanding what the meeting is, where and when, there is a barrier to regular folks being engaged in the process.”
When CAHU has lobbying days at the California capitol complex in Sacramento, Lujan says he provides step-by-step guides of where to park, where to go and what the process entails.
When asked if more people should be involved, Gaunya states, “Yes. It is frustrating that me and my colleagues here in Massachusetts who do participate are carrying the water for 90% of the people. ... But, I also accept the fact that leadership is lonely and if you aren’t looking to lead, they don’t do it.”
“I think it is everybody’s civic responsibility when you are involved in your industry to participate,” he adds. “But I also accept the fact most people don’t make the time for it and think it’s a waste of time.”
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