The 13th annual BenefitsPRO Broker Expo (formerly BenefitsSelling Expo) brought hundreds of attendees and exhibitors toIndianapolis in April.

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This year's show featured educational breakout sessions, greatfood, plenty of networking and world-class keynote speakers,including political analysts Nicolle Wallace and Bakari Sellers,leading expert on brain science and change Britt Andreatta, andMarcy Buckner, vice president of government affairs at the NationalAssociation of Health Underwriters (NAHU). Here's a recap of someof the highlights of this year's show.

Analysts take on the ACA

by Erin Moriarty-Siler

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BenefitsPRO Editor-in-Chief Paul Wilson joined Nicolle Wallace,a political analyst for MSNBC and top strategist for the RepublicanParty, and Bakari Sellers, an up-and-coming Democratic star and CNNpundit, in “Crossfire on Current Events and Today's DivisivePolitical Landscape.”

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The keynote at the annual BenefitsPRO Broker Expo tackledeverything from the Affordable Care Act, its perceived “deathspiral,” fake news, and what to look for in 2020. (Hint: DallasMavericks owner Mark Cuban and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcettishould start getting their teams together.)

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When asked what today's political climate looks like for them,Sellers was quick to respond.

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“It's a mess,” he said. “The White House has kept us in aperpetual state of confusion, and I'm not sure if that'sintentional or not.”

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“It's never intentional,” Wallace responded, as chucklespeppered the room. “In this moment, it's more painful for me,because my party stands for something very different now.”

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The two continued, discussing how we got here—with a presidentwho wasn't supposed to win and has been anything but conventionalsince he took office earlier this year.

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“We are seeing some epic battles in Trump's White House,” saidWallace. “He has this desire to dance with the ones who brunghim—Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway—but on the other side, he hasthese generals, like Mattis, who have helped some Trump skepticssleep at night.”

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These two forces—the Trump aides who have caught flak for theirPR woes and lack of experience and the more seasoned experts andadvisors—are pitted against each other and as Wallace pointed out,Trump will have to decide who will ultimately and truly guide histenure on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Democrats as the opposition party

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“This seems unprecedented,” noted Wilson. “It's not just afeeling; it actually is unprecedented,” said Sellers. He addedthere has never been a more inexperienced president. (That didn'tsit well with some audience members, who audibly disagreed.)

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But Sellers went on, telling the audience Democrats are in asituation they haven't been in for eight years—taking on the roleof the opposition party. It's not something they know how to dovery well right now, he said, and they need to figure out whattheir future looks like in this regard.

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“There is a lot of chaos, but a lot of that can be calmed downif you have a leader in the Republican Party like Paul Ryan whosteps forward and leads,” he said.

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To a certain degree, Wallace agreed, but with a simple, yetcrucial, caveat.

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“Paul Ryan was prepared and knew how to do his job under HillaryClinton, but he wasn't prepared for this,” she said. “He has noidea how to be Paul Ryan in a Trump administration. He willultimately pay the price for the Republicans in the midterms overthe health care debacle.”

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Paul Ryan's defeat

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Nicolle Wallace and Bakari Sellers discuss health carereform, prior to the most recent changes regarding theAHCA.

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And how much did the initial American Health Care Act failurehurt Trump? Not much at all, actually. Wallace said Trump won'thave to pay a political price, because his supporters weren'tnecessarily that offended by the ongoing health care debate; butRyan's supporters won't be as forgiving.

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“It's the more conservative ideological ones who make up PaulRyan's base, and they are going to be angry they blew up one oftheir chances to repeal Obamacare,” Wallace said.

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It seems that anger will reverberate for some time, consideringRyan's admission that the ACA is the law of the land and will befor the foreseeable future. Or will it? Trump says repeal is stillon the table.

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“The White House OMB director was talking about how ACA repealwill be done before tax reform, but I think that's aspirational,”Wallace said. “There is just not enough will for this among Trump'sbase.”

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So, despite Trump's tweets and recent developments in the House,the ACA could be in place for the time being, and many Americansare starting to give the health care law more love than it had inthe years it wasn't on the chopping block.

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“I will give credit to Trump for that,” Sellers said. “He madethe ACA popular, which Obama couldn't do. The AHCA only had anapproval of 17 percent. That's lower than the ACA ever was.”

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“It's hard for your first piece of legislation to take somethingaway from people,” he continued. “Obama failed to communicate theACA accomplishments, and you can see that now. I do think the ACAwill be the law of the land because of insurance reimbursements forthe 7 million people covered out-of-pocket by those insurers. Obamaattempted to do that, but the Republicans said no way. Now they aresaying it will be done.”

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Spending political capital

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With the missed opportunity that is repeal and replace, it'stime to face facts: The unpopular branding of the ACA made it hardto swallow for many Americans, but without something solid andsellable, Trump and his cohorts will most likely have to face apackage of tweaks.

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“If anyone tells you the ACA doesn't need to be fixed, they arelying to you and themselves,” Sellers said.

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Later in the keynote, an audience member wondered how muchpolitical capital Ryan expended on his first attempt at health carereform, and if he'd try to take on another endeavor soon, likeSocial Security.

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“I think his bank of political capital is a lot lighter,”Wallace said.

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“It's probably in overdraft,” Sellers chimed in.

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“But I don't think he has a partner to help him do anything inSocial Security,” Wallace said. “It's not Trump's impulse to takethings away. I think he thinks he can make the pie bigger, becauseI don't really think he wants reform.”

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Had someone like Jeb Bush or even Hillary Clinton taken theWhite House, both Wallace and Sellers agreed, reforms would be onthe docket. But as Sellers put it, “Paul Ryan is in the wrong era.He's too wonky.”

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Health insurance vs. health care costs

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Another question from the audience, brought up the question onmany brokers' minds. “Health insurance is expensive because healthcare is expensive. Why have both sides of the aisle been afraid totalk about it?”

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“That was the goal of the ACA, and it missed the mark,” Sellerssaid simply. “Not enough people get it,” said Wallace.

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Sellers then pushed back on the original question, saying, “Ithink your premise is wrong. I don't think cost is the problem;access remains the No. 1 problem.” It was then the all-too-familiarpoint was made by the audience: “Part of access isaffordability.”

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That argument has been—and should be—made often. For Wallace,she says not enough people in the government know how to have thisconversation, with one exception.

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“Governors are more fluent because they live it,” she said.“[John] Kasich made one of the more impassioned pleas to thepresident to slow down on health care.”

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The death spiral

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Another audience member brought up the so-called death spiralthe ACA seems to be succumbing to. “What does the ACA collapsemean, and could it actually happen?” he asked.

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“The Aetna CEO is the one who said Obamacare was in a deathspiral, and he said it when the government didn't back his merger,”Sellers said.

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(It should be mentioned Mark Bertollini denies the two arelinked, but recently, Aetna did remove itself from an Iowa ACAmarketplace for individual plans, the second major insurer to doso.)

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Sellers disagreed the ACA is in a death spiral and said whatwill help stabilize it will be the subsidies to insurance companiesthat will act as reinforcement to keep them on board. “I think itwill be stable,” he said.

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Wallace agreed somewhat. “I think it will be bloated, but whenit gets close to dying, they will fix it, but not until then.”

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“It's not how we repeal it,” Sellers said. “It's how we fix it.”

The (brain) science of change

By Daniel Williams

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“No industry has seen more upheaval and change than yours,” saidBritt Andreatta, speaking at the annual BenefitsPRO Broker Expo.“And that's bad for your brain, because your brain hates change,and it hates uncertainty.”

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Andreatta, CEO of 7th Mind Inc., is an expert on brain scienceand learning, and the author of “Wired to Grow” and “Wired toResist.”

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She likened the recent experiences of the brokerage industry toholding an umbrella in a storm, only the winds of change haveripped the umbrella from your hands and it's tumbling end over end,always just out of your reach.

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An educator, Andreatta became fascinated about the brain'sresistance to change firsthand when LinkedIn acquired the companywhere she worked.

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“My entire landscape shifted,” said Andreatta. “The rest of myteam was laid off. I was told to report to Sunnyvale, California,500 miles away.”

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Under normal conditions, she loved the idea of being acquired byLinkedIn, but this was not a normal time for Andreatta. She hadundertaken a major remodeling project at her house, and her motherwas battling Parkinson's.

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In short, her bandwidth for change was already maxed out. Whenshe wandered around the campus at LinkedIn, everything was new.Even simple tasks like operating a faucet in the bathroom causedher to stress out.

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The change journey

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With technology frequently a driver of change, organizations andtheir employees are often in a state of flux. When a company isacquired, or you get a new boss, or a new software platform isintroduced, your natural instinct, an instinct hardwired in yourbrain, fires up defense mechanisms.

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“Humans actually have an emotional reaction to change,” saidAndreatta. “Your initial response might be: 'No! I don't want thisto happen!' In this early stage, the natural emotions are shock,fear and denial.”

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As you begin to process the change, your feelings may shift tostress, anger and anxiety. A series of questions begin to swirlaround in your head. “Basically, you are breaking down thesituation and asking yourself, 'What will this change do to me? Howis this bad for me? What will I lose?'”

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After continuing to process the change, you eventually reach atipping point that Andreatta described as “resignation.” If thechange is taking place at work, you may actually resign from thecompany, or, you may get onboard and resign yourself to the newnormal.

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According to a recent study, 47 percent of senior executivesbelieve change fatigue is prevalent in their organizations.

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“What I tell leaders in companies is change is normal,” saidAndreatta. “You can't make change go away. What you can do is helppeople get through it.”

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The biological cocktail

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“The brain is wired to do three things: survive, belong andbecome,” Andreatta said. “We have this awesome biological cocktailthat sends out emotional distress signals.”

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This cocktail can manifest itself as a voice chirping in yourhead, as depicted in the Pixar movie Inside Out. When stress rampsup, the voice becomes louder, according to Andreatta. The wall ofnoise shouts out: “I don't know what to do! I can't screw up! I'mfreaking out! I'm lost!”

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What leaders can do is offer support, provide guidance, and havepatience with employees, giving them the time to adapt to thechanges.

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Tips for success

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Although the brain doesn't like change, it does adapt. Think ofthe first time you drove to work versus five years into your job,when you're on autopilot and wind your way to the office as if youhave an internal GPS. Andreatta offered five ideas on how to helpyourself to adapt to change:

  • Work with the brain. Eventually, biology will win. We have tounderstand how the brain works and what the emotional responses areto change.

  • Increase emotional intelligence. Change impacts emotions. It'svital that you develop your emotional intelligence. This can giveyou the skills to better navigate change.

  • Problem solving, not goals. When it comes to change, goals canmean success or failure. Instead of goals, look at change as aseries of problem-solving phases. This will help your brain beginseeking how to adapt to the change, rather than avoiding it.

  • Celebrate milestones and successes. When adapting to change, besure and enjoy your accomplishments.

  • Embrace mindfulness. Meditation has the ability to change yourbrain. Harvard University has conducted studies on meditation'simpact on the brain. Even a single 10-minute meditation session canalter the brain, lessening anxiety and creating a mellow state.

When the DOL comes knocking


By Rosalie Donlon

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Although we get most important communications through email inthe 21st century, there are still many things that come via snailmail, and a letter from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)announcing an audit of an employer's benefit plans is amongthem.

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“Many employers panic when they get a letter from DOL, andwonder how they were selected,” said Evelyn King, J.D., vicepresident of compliance and operations, ERISA Pros LLC. She wasspeaking at the BenefitsPRO Broker Expo session “How to Survive aDOL Audit,” presented jointly with Erika Medina, ERISA counsel, USIInsurance Services.

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Medina said the first thing employers should do is look at thecodes on the letter to understand exactly what plan is beingaudited. For instance, a letter with a code 53 is a pension planreview, while one with a 50 code is a health and welfare planreview.

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If the audit requests information about the pension plan, becareful to limit your response only to that plan, Medina cautioned.“Don't provide more information than strictly necessary.”

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Finding errors on Form 5500

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King explained the DOL has a lot more information now that Form5500s are filed electronically, and they can more easily finderrors.

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“DOL may be acting in response to a targeted program or to areview of a Form 5500 that seems in error,” Medina explained. Forexample, if a company had 500 employees in 2015, then 1,500employees in 2016, DOL may want to confirm whether there was anacquisition or whether the number is just a typographical error.“An audit or investigation by another agency might also be atrigger,” she added, “for example, an Internal Revenue Serviceaudit often sparks audits in other areas.”

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“Another common trigger,” King pointed out, “can be when the5500 shows a 401(k) plan but no health and welfare plan. In thatsituation, DOL will ask the company to provide all applicable plandocuments.”

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Medina and King both stressed complaints from disgruntledemployees are often the impetus for DOL investigations—even whenthe complaints may be groundless. Another favorite technique ofunhappy employees is to discard old plan documents so it's morecomplicated to show continuity of plan changes and amendments, Kingadded.

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In one case, Medina said, an investigator went to a spa for amassage and saw an unusual poster on the wall about employeebenefits, which piqued her interest. In another case, aninvestigator was in a sandwich line at a deli listening to a groupof nurses in front of him discussing proposed changes to theirpension plan from a local hospital that didn't seem right to them;he followed up with the hospital, launching a full audit.

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Third parties can affect confidentiality

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Most employers rely on third-party vendors to administer theirbenefit plans or on consultants to help design the plans. It can betempting to contact the vendors or third-party administrators(TPAs) to provide information as part of the audit, but be carefulwhen communicating with them, Medina advised. Conversations withthe company's attorney preserves any attorney/client privilege, butthe privilege may be waived, depending on how the communicationswith the third-party vendors takes place.

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King reminded the audience there might also be an inherentconflict of interest between the employer and the third parties ifthe audit finds that the vendor or consultant was at fault. Eventhough the employer may be entitled to indemnification, the vendoris likely to be taking care of its own issues with DOL first.

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Both speakers agreed high-profile organizations can affect theresults of an audit—or even whether the audits go beyond aninvestigation letter in the first place.

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“Facts and circumstances are very influential,” Medina said. “Ifa company has a well-known name—even if it's a small company—it hasa high risk of being audited.”

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“The employer is always responsible for any violations,” Kingemphasized, “even when the third party caused the violation. Theemployer has to write the check, and DOL is a money-making agency.”Many departments within DOL are evaluated on how much they collectin fines and penalties as part of the enforcement process, Medinaexplained.

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You can survive a DOL audit without panicking. Remember toprovide only the information requested—after consulting yourattorney, of course.

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