It’s been 20 years since the National Association of Health Underwriters provided Registered Employee Benefits Consultant and Chartered Healthcare Consultant credentials — but thanks to a new deal announced earlier this month with The American College of Financial Services, it will do so again.

The move “has been setting up for a while,” says Farren Baer, NAHU senior vice president of education. The American College had purchased the REBC and ChHC accreditation rights from NAHU in 1995 amid “a lot of shifts,” from the global economic downturn of the early 1990s to conflicts over public healthcare conversations in the United States.

“I think that impacted a lot of uncertainty in the financial instability in the association,” Baer says.

At that time, the industry was seeing a significant number of enrollments in those specialties, Baer says; today, the American College focuses more on financial services specialties for its membership, while NAHU is expanding its certification offerings most in the arena of employee benefits. Those circumstances made the switch back a deal that better aligns the priorities of everyone involved.

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In the field of health insurance, Baer says professional development training of all kinds has become increasingly important for everyone from agents to account managers, for which NAHU has recently begun offering a specialized certification. The pursuit of credentialing still serves as a mark of distinction that she believes customers appreciate and seek in their business dealings, and over which NAHU members have “a pretty high sense of ownership.”

“I think consumers should be privy to the level of credentials that a professional upholds when they’re searching for somebody to have assistance from,” Baer says.

‘Cafeteria of options’

Baer says core components of the American College curricula will be retained in the hand-off. The primary difference between the two systems of execution will manifest in how NAHU handles its elective classes — in consumer-driven healthcare certification, HIPAA, ERISA and COBRA — and coursework reciprocity for transfer credits.

“It’s going to be an easy transition over,” Baer says. “There are so many of our members and non-members that have acquired these certifications. Transitioning them back, we plan to uphold the integrity of the core curriculum and provide our certifications as electives so that [students] can choose from a cafeteria [of options],” including the NAHU Self-Funded, Voluntary Worksite and Wellness certifications. 

Although Baer says the American College curriculum has historically been “textbook-heavy,” the educational model NAHU offers “is pretty flexible both in classrooms and online” and has seen “proven enrollment.”

“I don’t think the experience of self-study or online delivery will be any different,” she says. “We’re going to make it easy to consume. The delivery model we’ve had is through the [NAHU] learning institute. It’s accessible 24/7, and not mandated to fit in live study. But we’ll still provide benchmarks.”

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From Dec. 31, current REBC and ChHC program students at the American College will have 18 months to complete those programs before they sunset at the end of June 2017. The college will not be admitting any new students into the REBC and ChHC programs beyond Jan. 1, 2016. By June 2016, Baer says she expects that NAHU will have better outlined its processes for the renewal and maintenance of the REBC and ChHC certifications, including the possibility of transferring continuing education credits (CEUs) required for licensing.

“We’re still in the process of discussions for data transfer, the student database, and projections of what we think enrollments will look like going forward,” Baer adds. “We’ll probably have a better look at that approaching Spring 2016.”

But will students perceive a difference in the value ascribed to their credentials in the switchover from The American College to NAHU?

“I don’t know that they’ll perceive them as even skipping a beat,” she says.

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