If you're an agent selling major medical insurance, long-term care insurance or other health-related products, you may feel unloved right now. But, whether or not anyone has the cash to pay you, both the insurers and consumers need you now more than ever.
You help insurers make money by using capital to patch the holes in the plastic sheeting of wages, savings and government programs that protect consumers against financial devastation. The consumers' plastic sheeting is still so flimsy that, according to the Commonwealth Fund, 16 percent of U.S. adults ages 19 to 64 with income over 400 percent of the federal poverty level put off getting dental care in 2016 because of worries about the cost. Ten percent of those "high-income adults" put off going to a doctor when they were sick.
Insurers, meanwhile, face two huge constrants on what they can sell safely: lingering low interest rates, which smother long-term care insurance, long-term disability insurance and other long-duration products; and Affordable Care Act chaos.
But insurers need to make up for dormant markets by expanding distribution for the products they think they can still sell: supplemental health products, such as accident insurance, critical illness insurance, hospital indemnity insurance, short-term health insurance, short-term disability insurance and short-term care insurance.
When the federal individual major medical rules come back into focus, and insurers know what they want to sell, they will have a sudden need to explain the new products to consumers. Insurers may try to deliver their explanations through the web and mobile sites, but they are likely to re-discover what the ACA public exchange system recently confirmed: that a great insurance sales site makes a fine source of leads for live-human agents. The LifeHealthPro archive is full of stories of insurer-to-consumer web sales first that ended up courting agents and brokers.
Celent, a financial services technology research firm, has recognized the ongoing need for health agents' skills by working with Vertafore Inc., the parent of the BenefitPoint system, to organize a survey of a few hundred agents in the health sector.
The survey team asked the participants what they want out of insurers.
In other words: The Celent team acknowledged that you are somebody.
Insurers still have to try to give you the tools you need to serve your clients, or live with the consequences for failing to do so.
About 90 percent of the survey participants said they sell Medicare products, and about 70 percent sell ordinary individual major medical. Roughly 40 percent sell individual disability insurance or long-term care insurance. One-third sell group health and group disability products.
Here's a look at some of what the participants told the Celent team about insurers.
Agents may like to sell high-quality products from insurers that offer great service, but the Celent survey shows that offering great products at a good price comes first.
More than 80 of the survey participants identified "competitive products" and "competitive prices" as must-haves, and just about all of the rest described important for an insurer to have. More than 80 percent identified both competitive products and competitive prices as must haves.
Responsiveness of underwriting ranked close to price, with about 75 percent of the participants describing that as a must-have. But there was a clear divide between agent interest in that and in other core insurer service capabilities, such as quoting speed and policy delivery speed. About 60 percent to 75 percent of the agents identified those as must-haves.
Just about all survey participants said they want the insurers they work with to offer competitive commissions.
The participants expressed more dissatisfaction with compensation than with any other aspect of the insurer-agent relationship. Only half of the participants said their top carrier offers good or great compensation. About 20 percent rated their top carrier's compensation as below average or terrible.
3. Data security
The Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been throwing the book at hospitals and health insurers with health data security problems.
Agents also seem to see data security as a top priority.
When Celent asked agents to rate the importance of 11 issues related to agent licensing, contracting and compliance, securing producer information came in first. More than 70 percent of the agents identified producer information security as a must-have, and almost all of the rest described that as something nice to have.
Agents ranked prompt appointment status updates second and product training material simplicity third.
4. Claims service
When agents are looking for their "top insurer," they care, deeply, about product prices and sales compensation programs. But they said that, when they're evaluating insurers, claims service comes first.
More than 70 percent described good claims service is a must-have, and most of the rest described that as something nice to have.
In contrast, fewer than 40 percent described offering mobile technology tools as a must-have.
Many agents appear to be open to switching to carriers that offer better service. About 30 percent said their top carrier offers average, below average or terrible service.
5. Getting started
Agents expressed unhappiness with their top carrier's efforts to get new agents into their systems.
Only about half said their top carrier offers a good or great onboarding process. About 80 percent said carriers could persuade them to give them more business by improving their onboarding processes.
6. Products v. onboarding
Although some agents hate their top carrier's onboarding, they seem to care more about working with an insurer with good, well-priced products than about onboarding systems.
When Celent forced agents to compare the importance of "competitive products" and several types of insurer service and support capabilities, more than 80 percent of the agents classified competitive products as a must-have. Only about 40 percent described good producer onboarding systems as a must-have.
7. Web bread v. mobile butter
Another lesson from the Celent survey results is that agents tend to be a little more interested in traditional information technology than in mobile support.
More than 50 percent of the agents described an insurer's "technology capabilities" as a must-have, compared with just 30 percent who described mobile tools that way.
In response to other questions, online quick quote systems received high marks. About 70 percent of the agents rated the quick quote systems as a must-have.