There’s no question that the nation’s health care system is in a state of change and unrest -- and it looks like a good number of health insurance brokers are sick and tired of it.
Nearly half of America’s brokers (45 percent) say they’re considering exiting the health insurance business altogether, with the majority (51 percent) saying they are only slightly or not at all confident about the future of their firm and their industry, according to an Aflac WorkForces survey, out Wednesday.
Wide-ranging changes in health care — notably the Patient Protection and Affordable Act — and economic unrest are causing brokers’ self-doubt, Aflac reported, just as employers and employees say they need brokers most.
Almost one-third of brokers (29 percent) say they’re concerned about remaining relevant to their clients, the report found.
Though brokers’ concerns over their future have been widely reported, albeit anecdotally, Aflac’s survey of more than 300 brokers offered a clearer picture of how many are thinking about leaving the business.
The numbers left some in the industry puzzled.
“It surprises me,” David Smith, vice president of health and welfare benefits at North Carolina-based Ebenconcepts, said of the results. “Most of the professionals I know are not planning on leaving the business. I’m sure there are people who do nothing but the occasional health insurance policy who may now decide to get out of the business.”
The survey comes at a time when workers and employers say they want more help from brokers and benefits experts as they try to make sense of health care changes — especially as PPACA goes into effect.
Other big changes employers need help with? The movement from HMO and PPO plans to consumer-driven options as well as implementing wellness programs.
According to Aflac’s report, the majority of employees (78 percent) at least somewhat agree they would be more informed about their health insurance choices if they worked with an insurance consultant during benefits enrollment; more than one-third (35 percent) of those questioned strongly or completely agree with that statement.
Industry insiders say the “crisis of confidence among brokers” is a trend that can be turned around if brokers realize the increasing opportunities coming their way thanks to the PPACA.
That was a sentiment echoed recently by Janet Trautwein, CEO of the National Association of Health Underwriters, after the Obama administration announced the one-year delay to PPACA’s employer mandate.
She encouraged employer groups to “seek counsel from an experienced, licensed health insurance agent."
“These professionals can help employers prepare for the new 2015 deadline, as well as assist in finding affordable plans that fit the needs of employees and their families,” Trautwein said.
Aflac executives said employee education and communication about benefits are two especially key areas of opportunity for brokers.
Michael Zuna, Aflac’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, says that despite the alarming figures of brokers’ confidence, their expertise is increasingly in demand.
“Education and engagement will be crucial to helping employers attract and retain employees and keep them productive and satisfied on the job,” he said.
“What’s more, the smartest agents and brokers will seize upon health care reform as an opportunity to even further demonstrate their value and encourage employers to satisfy workers’ expectations and needs when it comes to benefits education,” Zuna said.