Early bird gets the worm. That’s an applicable motto for the National Association of Health Underwriters Capitol Conference attendees, who packed into a hotel on Capitol Hill early Tuesday morning for an overflowing session of speakers, from a senator to a president of a health insurance enrollment non-profit to Mercer and Wellpoint representatives.

The brokers and agents headed out to lobby their members of Congress immediately after the morning meetings, some skipping out early and even missing lunch to make appointments on the Hill. 

The eager and energetic crowd gathered for an opening talk from Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chair of the Senate Small Business Committee. Landrieu’s remarks lasted nearly 20 minutes, and gave rise to some frustration and murmurs of annoyance when she mentioned some positive aspects of health reform’s “public option” that was not ultimately enacted by Congress. 

Her comments were otherwise broad as related to health care reform and her efforts for small business owners. “[The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] will bring 30 million more customers to your doorstep,” Landrieu began. “Small business owners have a voice in Washington,” she added later. She did hit a high note when remarking that while she supported the PPACA bill that became law, she’s not opposed to continuing to tweak it. She also got a round of applause when mentioning the bill that she’s sponsored on behalf of insurance brokers and agents that received more Republican sponsors than Democrats. 

A seeming outsider to the group was former Obama campaign staffer Anne Fillipac, whose newest role is president of Enroll America, a non-profit advocacy group formed to educate uninsured Americans about health care. At the end of her talk she gave a plea to brokers — who she said are respected leaders in their communities — help with her information campaign. She noted that research shows the personal issue of health insurance is best received by a trusted voice like a family member, church member or leader, or health insurance broker or agent. “We need all hands on deck,” Fillipac said. “We know your networks are huge.” 

Fillipac noted that 78% of the uninsured are unaware that they will be required by law to purchase insurance in 2014, and 83% of those eligible for Medicaid under the expansion don’t know about it. She mentioned that the biggest need for education is in metro areas, especially those in California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois and Georgia, as these are the locations where the most uninsured individuals reside. Of course this education, should a broker choose to help Enroll America, would not be likely to lead to sales, as it would largely send people to public exchanges. But, she added: “aren’t we all in the business to maximize the number of Americans who take advantage of new options of insurance?” 

Most brokers and agents in attendance paid close attention to Mark Iwry, a senior adviser in the Department of Treasury. He spoke of the current PPACA regulations, what regulations are yet to come by his organization and the Department of Health and Human Services, and then answered about a dozen questions on everything PPACA during an off-the-record Q&A with audience members. 

Another highlight was a talk by Dr. Jan Van Riper of the newly formed National Alliance of State Health CO-OPs, or NASHCO. She explained that co-ops were created under PPACA and are commonly confused by those in the industry as exchanges. They’re not. A co-op is a federal program to assist in the establishment and operation of a nonprofit member-run group of health insurance issuers. 

However, only 24 states took advantage of the federal loans offered to start such co-ops, and according to Van Riper, they were smart. The loans got slashed in the fiscal cliff deal that was made on Jan. 1 of this year and while Van Riper says her group is lobbying for it to be overturned, it’s not likely at this point. “We have over 40 additional applications pending, some of them had just gone in to meet the Dec. 31,” she explained. But one good thing — the currently established programs didn’t get defunded. 

Additional talks were given by George Lane of Mercer, an EBA Advisory Board member, and Doug Wenners of Wellpoint. Lane’s discussion expounded on the private exchange. Read more about Mercer’s exchange plans here.

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