The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was voted into law more than sevenyears ago, but the shakeup it caused in the health care industrystill hasn't quite settled. And where it has, it's settled in someunexpected ways.

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One is the shift in the benefits broker's role from salesperson toconsultant, as health plans have become anecessity rather than a consideration. If you've been contemplatingconsulting, or have recently made the switch, here's what youshould know about the future of the job, and what you can do tocompete in this growing space.

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Facing the future of health care

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When health care became a requirement for certain businessesunder the ACA, consulting was a natural pivot for brokers. Thesales pitch for health care coverage was obsolete, and the SupremeCourt's ruling on the medical-loss ratio killed commissions.Fielding client questions on the ACA looked a lot morelucrative.

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Well, until “repeal and replace” echoed around Washington, thatis. The push to do away with the ACA continues, despite severalfailed attempts. But if that has you worried, know that thelikelihood of returning to the old system is almost zero.

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Republican lawmakers are dedicated to ensuring every American atleast has access to health care, meaning they'll need a way todocument who has been offered health benefits. Reporting and legalrequirements will likely still be complex, and the transitionperiod will certainly remain confusing.

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All of this complexity and confusion opens up the perfectenvironment for consulting. Employers will continue to askquestions of their benefits brokers, and brokers with a consultinglicense will have a considerable edge in answering and advisingtheir clients.

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Love it or hate it, the ACA marked an irreversible turn in thehealth care system, and it's likely to only get more confusing fromhere. Consulting has been, and will continue to be, a valuableniche for brokers with the appropriate license and tools.

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Two tools every broker needs

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To be a successful consultant, you have to set yourself apart ontwo fronts: knowledge and technology.

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The greatest tool is an encyclopedic knowledge of the ACA, itsmany potential replacements, and related reporting efforts. Clientswill be coming to you with an array of questions about health carechanges, and if you can't provide them with answers, they'll lookfor someone who can.

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Separate yourself from the pack by not only knowing the ins andouts of the laws and their implications, but by being able totranslate them so that businesses truly understand what it allmeans for them. If you want to further increase your value to yourclients, expanding your knowledge base from just health care toother benefits, such as 401(k) contributions, or other trickycompliance issues, such as EEO-1 reporting, can help you stand outeven more.

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For health care and many of these other requirements, employerstypically lack the necessary data and don't know how best toorganize it. Besides this, the constant push to repeal the ACA andother regulations means employers remain confused about what datathey should be reporting for this filing season and whether therules have changed.

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This is where the second tool comes in: technology. ACA data inparticular requires a lot of calculations and code-matching that'stedious and nearly impossible to do by hand, so a technologysolution that integrates with payroll is a near necessity.

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You can also deliver better overall advice using technology thataccurately predicts and forecasts benefits spending for the nextfew years, taking into account the current laws, taxes, andpenalties. Technology helps you skip the human error of manualcalculations and save yourself hours in the process, making yourconsulting operation much more efficient.

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Becoming a trusted resource

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As health care continues down its current path—or charts a newone, if a reform bill ever ends up passing—consulting will continueto be the natural choice for brokers looking to assist theirclients. Employers will always need help with their benefits andcompliance issues, from the ACA to retirement benefits, to EEO-1reporting and beyond. To best do any of this, the right technologyand knowledge are essential to solidifying your place as a go-toresource.

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