The other day, I ran into Mike Smith, president of The Brokerage, Inc., a general agency based in Lewisville, Texas. Mike was a speaker at the 2010 Benefits Selling Expo, and made the tough decision to skip this year’s conference after getting an invitation to attend the Masters (I don’t think anyone would fault him for that).
The first thing Mike asked me was, “How was the mood?” The 2010 Expo, you might recall, was held just weeks after the passage of the health reform legislation, and everyone at the event looked like their dog just died. The overall feel was very negative – most attendees weren’t yet ready to move on; instead, they just wanted to complain.
One year later, in answer to Mike’s question, the mood at the expo was completely different. Brokers had survived the first year of health reform, stopped complaining, and began to focus on all of the opportunities created by the legislation. Their overall attitude was surprisingly optimistic. I witnessed a new theme emerging — a new game plan for brokers, if you will.
Though the broker’s role is obviously going to change, they will still have a role—a very important role. Health reform makes things more complicated for employers and consumers, creating a greater need than ever for expert guidance. In short, our clients will need help, and those brokers who are able to provide it should do very well. But let’s start by taking a look at what they won’t need.
First, they won’t need a quoter. A lot of brokers seem to believe that their primary responsibility is to shop the market and create an “apples to apples” comparison of the various plan options in a spreadsheet format. Unfortunately for these folks, beginning in 2014, this function will be performed by the state-based individual and small business “SHOP” exchanges.
Consumers also won’t need brokers to help complete the various carrier applications and obtain pre-screened or underwritten rates. With new, standard forms and a new “modified community rating” requirement that prevents individual and small group carriers from rating based on gender or medical conditions, the enrollment process will become much less complicated. Brokers will be needed, though, to help their clients select a plan.
Yes, the exchange will present a lot of options in a uniform format, but that doesn’t mean that consumers will understand what they’re looking at. And because employees will have a range of options to choose from, rather than a single plan option selected by the employer, this will become much more of an individual decision than it has been in the past.
One-on-one enrollment meetings could become the norm. That could be good news for brokers who sell voluntary products, as participation in these plans is much higher when the broker or enroller has an opportunity to meet with employees one at a time. If you don’t currently sell voluntary, this might be a good time to start, and when you do, it may be a good idea to team up with someone you trust who specializes in these sorts of products .
While you’re busy finding good people to partner with, you might also want to find a good HSA vendor. These consumer-directed products are likely to be the lowest-priced plans that meet the minimum essential coverage requirement in 2014, so they should become even more popular.
If you’ve always let your clients select their own HSA vendor or recommended that they just “use the local bank,” you could be leaving referral money on the table and might be fielding a lot of questions that a good administrator could answer for you.
Finally, brokers need to start finding good technology solutions that can make them more efficient while solving many of their clients’ problems. The time to invest in technology is now – if you wait until 2014, you’ll miss your chance to be a market leader.
Eric Johnson can be reached at 817-366-7536 or firstname.lastname@example.org.