During his three decades in the industry, Don Goldmann has madehis mark in a number of ways.

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He got his start in life insurance, then moved to SouthernCalifornia in the early 1980s just as HMOs were gainingmomentum.

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After years of working his way into the corporate side of thebusiness, he eventually decided to get back to selling, and helpedstart an agency called Group Benefits Plus.

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When his partner retired, Goldmann joined the Word & Browngeneral agency. ¶ Goldmann was named president of the NationalAssociation of Health Underwriters (NAHU) in July, and he continuesto serve as a vice president at the Word & Brown in Orange,California.

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Goldmann recently told BenefitsSelling about NAHU's plans for the coming year, his thoughtson outside forces affecting the insurance industry, and the ways hesees brokers and other insurance professionals reinventingthemselves in order to adapt to the ever-changing benefitsenvironment.

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Paul Wilson: What are some of the biggestchanges you've seen in the industry during the last 30years?

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Don Goldmann: Technology is the number onething that's changed. But we're still a people business, and thetechnology is never going to replace that interpersonal side. Itdoes allow us to improve our system of distribution and sales.

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There's now so much information in the marketplace, that it'simpossible for one salesman to wrap his hands around that and getit in a presentable manner to a client without the technology.

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PW: How about changes on the regulatoryside of things?

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DG: In the last 15 years, every state, and thenthe federal government, started getting involved in themicromanagement of the delivery system. They weren't so muchmicromanaging what the doctors did; they were micromanaging theinsurance or distribution system.

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The language of the Affordable Care Act is about affordablecare, but when you go through it, the vast bulk of it changes howwe buy and sell it. It's much more aimed at that then it is toactually doing anything in terms of making care moreaffordable.

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PW: Where does that leave brokers?

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DG: We've got to make the best of it. And Ithink the younger folks coming into the industry may actually havean easier time of it than the oldest folks who are going 'I don'twant another round of regulatory changes. I don't want to deal withthis. I've got enough in my pocket, so I think I'll retire.'

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Twenty years ago, I came in not knowing anything about HMOs. ButI adapted. Now, there's a whole generation of folks who never knewa world without an HMO. Going forward, we're going to have a wholegeneration who will never know a world that didn't have federalregulations. And the argument about repealing it or not repealingit is going to fade to trying to do what we can to make it betterfor everybody, even if we politically disagree with it. And thenthere will be some change 15 or 20 years from now that thisgeneration will be dealing with.

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PW: What have you seen brokers doing toadapt to a new selling environment?

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Well, lots of folks are using social media as a prospectingtool, although I think those who use it as their only prospectingtool are probably selling themselves short.

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But if I can use social media to engage with someone, start totalk to them, and once I get that relationship established and makethat first sale, then I have tools that allow me to stay in touchwith them. I think the people who can embrace technology to enhancethe relationship, not to substitute for it, are going to be able todo what every successful salesperson in this business has alwaysdone: sell multiple products to the same prospect.

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PW: Speaking about products specifically,what shifts and trends are you seeing now?

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DG: Unfortunately, the strongest trend has beenfor carriers, both on an individual and on a group level, to findways to reduce the cost of product by thinning out the medicalprovider network—what they call “skinny plans.”

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What that means is the agent, on behalf of their client, needsto have some robust technology to help them sell the network;they're no longer just selling the price. I can get you a realcheap price if I skinny myself down to only 10 percent of thedoctors in any given community, but is that really what the clientwants?

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PW: What else is changing around products?How can brokers take advantage?

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DG: We're starting to become a seasonal sellingindustry. We're getting blasted by an enormous amount of activityon individual and small group in the latter part of the year, whichleaves us an enormous amount of time in the other parts of theyear.

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That provides a good opportunity to sell other products. Itallows us to look into areas like ancillary products that perhapswe didn't really pay as much attention to before. A smart agent outthere could now spend some of his slower months developing programsfor marketing these ancillary products. And I think you're seeingthe carriers recognize that, too. That's a big change.

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PW: As the newly elected president of NAHU,what are your top priorities for the coming year?

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DG: First, compliance. We're working with theregulatory bodies all the time, the IRS, HHS, the DOL. We'reconstantly trying to help them understand the real world, becausesometimes they don't quite get it. They think an employer will dothis or that in reaction to something that they're proposing, andthey're quite surprised when they discover the employer can do andprobably will do quite the opposite.

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Another area we're putting a lot of time, energy and educationinto is the medical loss ratio. We've got a number of bills infront of Congress to try to allow the commission side of thepremium to be calculated outside of the 85 percent medical lossratio. This really wouldn't change anything except the recognitionthat we as brokers work for the client; we really don't work forthe carrier. We've got to get that out of the 85 percentcalculation.

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Probably the biggest risk we see on the horizon is the Cadillactax. The rate at which the tax will start to affect is so low;we've got states where you've got a bronze level plan, the lowestlevel allowed under PPACA, and it is already perilously close to aCadillac tax. How do you reduce the cost of that as an employer? Ifyou reduce benefits, you go below PPACA requirements.

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The heart of the problem is they really didn't have adjustmentsfor the medical cost inflation that was going to occur,particularly when you pull into the system all the people whoneeded health care.

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PW: Does NAHU have any specific plans forthe upcoming election year?

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DG: We have a very robust political actiongroup called HUPAC [Health Underwriters Political ActionCommittee]. We are intent on trying to discover candidates on bothsides of the aisle—we're not Democrat or Republican—who align withour thinking about the industry.

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We will provide complete interview sheets on the candidates.We're not going in thinking that every person from one party or theother is automatically going to be a friend or an enemy.

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PW: You've been a member of NAHU since1986. What is the value of industry organizations to brokers andother professionals?

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DG: By becoming part of something bigger thanyourself, you become bigger. You become more worthwhile. And notjust in terms of your ability to make a living; you become moreworthwhile to your family and your community. You discover talentsand you grow. That alone would be worth becoming involved with theassociation.

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But if it turns out that you also can wrap this new growth intosuccess in your career, that's even better. I can guarantee youthat in 1986, I never thought I'd be standing in a convention inNew Orleans giving a speech as the newly installed president ofNAHU.

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PW: You hear a lot of doom and gloomsometimes about the the industry. Why are you optimistic about thefuture?

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DG: In this industry, there are always going tobe changes. Big changes, little changes. Heartbreaking changes thatwill take more work.

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I for one am very positive about the industry, because we havepeople who are incredibly bright.

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They're probably the most generous people I've ever met.Generous with their time; with other competitors; with their money.You just can't have that many positive people with that muchpositive energy fail. It's not gonna happen. Change? Yes? Failure?No.

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Paul Wilson

Paul Wilson is the editor-in-chief of BenefitsPRO Magazine and BenefitsPRO.com. He has covered the insurance industry for more than a decade, including stints at Retirement Advisor Magazine and ProducersWeb.