The beginning of a new year is a great time to prepare. I alwaysthink of how the great basketball coach John Wooden began eachseason: he reviewed how to tie shoelaces with his players.

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Wooden went over the process in great detail: He made sure eachplayer understood that precise attention to every detail is aterrific competitive advantage. A careless opponent might pay lessattention to basics like tying shoes—and that could be thedifference in a close contest. And the shoelaces secured thefoundation of a player's leverage on the floor. Wooden knew thatpaying attention to such a basic item also would underscore thevalue of attention to other details, by creating a mindset thatnothing can be assumed when it comes to preparation.

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So what are the shoelaces of our business?

  1. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.Obamacare has dominated our world for the past three years, and theheadlines for the past three months. With the inability to meetexpectations, Washington is finding out our business isn't sosimple after all. With government-backed programs falling more intoquestion, employers are going to rely on their brokers foradvice—and brokers on their carrier partners.

  2. Voluntary benefits. We've talked for yearsabout how they can fill gaps—gaps in the plans employers provide toemployees, gaps created by Obamacare, and gaps in broker incomegenerated by the MLR requirements. But while we've talked aboutthis, it's still not possible to design the best gap-fillingproduct. The problems with the HealthCare.gov site, the issues withregulations put off or modified, have delayed any specificsolutions for another year.

  3. Voluntary benefits 2. We have to wonder aboutemployees. They've been told they must have coverage, yet theiroptions have been confusing and frustrating at best. So willemployees keep reacting favorably to voluntary benefits thisyear?

  4. Defined contribution and private exchanges. Arethese going to be as fresh in 2014 as they seemed in 2013? Areemployers going to think: “why bother?”

In 2014, as we look forward, more than ever we need to focus onour customers. Let's quit watching Washington so closely, quitplanning to react to the moving targets represented by PPACA, andhave direct discussions with employers about how to best definemedical, ancillary, and voluntary benefits to meet the needs oftheir employees. Let's make sure their shoelaces are tied, so theirbenefit strategies are on solid footing.

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