INDIANAPOLIS -- Ronnell Nolan is a health insurance activist andshe makes no apologies about it. She spoke yesterday in aBenefitsPRO Broker Expo session entitled “Agent Survival in a NewPolitical Climate.”

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Related: What traits and qualities do today'sbrokers need?

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Before she made these demands of her captive audience, Nolanopened her talk yesterday with a pointed question.

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“How many of you love politics?”

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One hand went up. Nolan nodded approvingly. Being a politicaljunkie these days is not a popular avocation and Nolan knows thiswell. As someone who travels frequently to Capitol Hill to lobbyCongressional members, she knows the bullseye placed on today’spolitical world, a world that seems to becomemore contentious with each passing moment.

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“I know, I know,” said Nolan, speaking in her native Baton Rougedrawl. “Politics drives most people crazy.”

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But politics has become Nolan’s life ever since she foundedHealth Agents for America, Inc. (HAFA) in November 2012. “I sawthere was a need for an association that would represent agentsexclusively. There are so many things happening to the industryright now and we need to stand up for ourselves,” said Nolan.

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Today, with the recent inclusion of an agent from Colorado, HAFAcounts more than 500 members who reside in 43 states.

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Nolan said whether agents and brokers join HAFA or some other association,the important takeaway is that they join something.

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“You have to stand up for yourself and for the other agents andbrokers,” she said. “I learned years ago. I got started in thisbusiness as an eighteen-year-old and along the way realized the wayI was going to really make a difference was by lobbying.”

Chess game

”Go ahead and tell me. Is all the political talk driving youcrazy?”

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Most of the people in attendance nodded their head or answeredin the affirmative.

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“I know what you mean. I could have let all the craziness get tome,” Nolan said. “But I have accepted politics for what it is. It’sa game. If you can look at politics that way, it’s a lot easier todeal with.”

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She learned about the game of politics years ago when she workedon a bill. It looked like it was going to pass, but at the end of asession, someone put an amendment on the bill which killed it.“That was an early lesson for me. I got outsmarted on that one. Itcould have made me mad, but that’s politics. You have to learn howto play the game.”

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Nolan makes the comparison to a game of chess. “They move thatpiece; then we move this piece. In politics, the key isanticipating what your opponent will do next, or maybe ten stepsfrom now.”

Wild, Wild West

In Nolan’s world, the agents and brokers will become part of thepolitical message. She envisions a world where agents are out theremaking a difference in the political arena.

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She wants brokers to speak to their congressmen and senators.She wants people writing letters to politicians and joining groupsthat can help shape legislation.

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Nolan may sound like a slave driver, but the impetus for herpassion is a desire to serve as an advocate for independentagents.

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She’s seen too many insurance companies refuse to pay brokercommissions on higher-tier exchange plans or special enrollmentplans and wants what’s best for all the independent agents outthere.

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On one of the slides she presented to the audience, thefollowing words scrolled across the screen: “It’s the Wild West outhere, and companies are doing what they can to survive. They're notpaying commissions on platinum plans, and they are not paying themfor special enrollment plans which cover some of the sickestpatients.”

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Education

One way for agents to survive in this new political climate isto focus on educating the client. In the session following Nolan’s,James Slotnick, AVP Broker Education, Sun Life Financial, spokeabout the need to connect with clients on a deeperlevel.

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Slotnick said clients have lived in confusion and fear abouttheir health care for a decade and it’s time for a shift incommunication.

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“There will not be repeal and replace in 2017,” said Slotnick.“The fact is, your clients need to hear this. For the rest of 2017,Trump will be focused on tax reform, not changing health care.”

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Slotnick said with the GOP health care plan dead in the water,right now is the perfect time to have holistic health careconversations with clients. For a decade now, the conversationbetween agents and clients has focused on how to get thelowest-cost option available. While that is a valid concern, thelow-cost focus has overshadowed another important topic—finding abetter holistic solution.

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“People have suffered through a decade of distraction,” saidSlotnick. “And they have suffered because of it.”

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A Sun Life study revealed 54 percent of people didn’t know theirout-of-pocket maximum; 33 percent didn’t know their deductible;and, 30 percent didn’t know either. The study also showed Americanworkers have a disconnect regarding disability. When asked, “Whatis the chance you will be out of work for three months or morebecause of disability?” 66 percent of workers think there is a 2percent chance of this happening. In reality, there is a 25 percentchance.

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“It’s clear many of today’s employees don’t understand what theyneed and what they don’t need,” Slotnick said. “There’s a wonderfulopportunity to open the dialogue and offer holistic solutions.”

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