With healthcare regulation in a constant flux, benefit brokers are eager to influence legislative decisions that impact their daily workload, as well as that of their clients. But experts agree, there is a right and a wrong way to go about making sure broker voices are heard in Washington, D.C.

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The complexity of healthcare means advisers have a lot of educating and groundwork to lay, panelists said during the National Association of Health Underwriters’ annual legislative conference this week.

“Healthcare is extremely complicated and your issues can be complicated,” said Andrew McKechnie, a partner at Peck Madigan Jones, a Washington-based government relations firm that works with NAHU.

“Lots of [Capitol Hill] staffers don’t have experience with broker issues,” he said during the panel. Therefore, it’s imperative brokers are well-versed in the issue and legislation they may wish to discuss. They should be prepared to answer questions, which McKechnie says could include

  • How much will this cost?
  • Who supports this legislation?
  • Who might oppose it?
  • How does this matter to my congressmen's state or district?

“It is important to provide concrete facts,” McKechnie said. “How does this matter? What is the impact of the issue,” on the state or district the legislator represents.

Still, Jay Sulzmann, legislative director for Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), told attendees of the NAHU conference to be selective about what details are provided.

Agents should not bring copies of in-depth detailed studies, as those will most likely never be read, he advised. Instead, a one page memo is likely to be more effective.

“If you are expecting staffers to read through all the background material to get an answer themselves,” it will not happen, Sulzmann said. “We often have 15-20 meetings a week. There is only so much manpower.”

Not for naught

At a legislative summit sponsored by The Council for Insurance Agents and Brokers earlier this month, Michelle Greenhalgh, a legislative assistant in Rep. Joe Courtney’s (D-Conn.) office, told advisers, “Your meetings matter and your letters matter.”

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“As staff, we look at each thing and get it to our bosses. They do hear about these things. Don’t think sending a grassroots message is pointless. Sometimes your letter can be critical.”

“As staff, we look at each thing and get it to our bosses,” she said. “They do hear about these things. Don’t think sending a grassroots message is pointless. Sometimes your letter can be critical.”

Sulzmann agrees, telling attendees of the NAHU legislative conference that legislators and their staffers are receptive to listening to constituents.

“If we don’t hear from folks on the ground about how policy is impacting real people and real folks trying to make a living, how are we going to make the right decision to relieve these burdens?,” he said.


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