Helping legislators understand “the human consequence of … policies is so incredibly important,” Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Wednesday told hundreds of insurance agents attending the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America annual legislative conference in Washington.

Speaking about tax reform, but applying it to all pieces of legislation, Kennedy said the only way to get a bill passed is if brokers “raise [their] voices and make sure members [of Congress] understand the consequences of action and inaction.”

He pointed to the American Health Care Act, the GOP plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, which was pulled from the House floor before a vote because the Republican Party lacked the votes to pass the bill.

Rep.  Joseph "Joe" Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts, waits for a House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee.
Rep. Joseph "Joe" Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts, waits for a House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee. Bloomberg/file photo

“The bill six weeks ago did not have the support of hospitals or doctors or the mental health community or nurses or seniors or patient groups,” Kennedy said. “It didn’t have support from a whole lot of folks. People raised their voices and … [the] bill was pulled because people said to their representatives, ‘Don’t vote yet.’”

“The system does actually work but is predicated on citizens raising their voices and speaking up,” he added.

He urged advisers to frame issues around how they have affected families looking for insurance coverage or trying to start a business. “No one else is going to do this for you,” he said. “And if you think they are, they are going to do it the way they want to do it.”

If you let someone else talk, “don’t [complain] that you don’t like the result. Speak up,” he added. “If you do, we will get there.”

Passing a bill
Kennedy predicted a new GOP-led health bill will reach the House Thursday. He said a successful bill requires working together.

“Process matters,” he said. “I was talking with senior members of the [Trump] administration the other day and they said, ‘Do you want to work with us on stuff?’”

Kennedy said he was willing to work on some items, but the rhetoric from the administration is targeting constituencies that mean a lot to Bay Staters, including funding for the National Institutes of Health and social services. This, he said, makes it harder to work together.

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“If [the administration] does not provide any space to have a conversation, we can’t get there,” he said. “I don’t think the administration is there yet.”

The way the GOP healthcare reform bill has been proposed, Kennedy said, has put Democrats in a “defensive state,” given the programs it targets. While Kennedy predicts a softer rhetoric will not happen on the healthcare bill, he is hopeful it will on tax reform and other programs. “Create a space where we can have a discussion,” he said. “You can get there, but you need to provide some opportunities to have a conversation.”

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