Picture it: Long Island, New York, 2004. (For anyone old enough to remember "The Golden Girls," I hear the voice of Sophia Petrillo saying "Picture it: Sicily, 1941.")

I owned a moderately successful insurance agency in Hauppauge, New York. There were eight of us working there, we had a bevy of good clients, all of them fully insured, and we had what appeared to be, by today's standards anyway, a robust and competitive insurance marketplace.

My life consisted of putting a spreadsheet together to get the client and hoping I showed something their current broker didn't, even though they had access to the exact same plans and rates I did (New York had been truly community-rated for a very long time). Once the plans were chosen, I would conduct employee meetings and my staff would help service the group throughout the year. At renewal, I would almost laugh at the increases year after year, and watch as benefits eroded to offset the rising premiums.

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