AN APPETITE FOR LEARNING
Bret Brummitt has been with AG Insurance Agencies in Fort Worth, Texas, for 18 years. Now a senior consultant, he admits to a few growing pains when he began his career. “A milestone for me was being able to go to sleep at night and feeling like I hadn’t screwed up,” he recalls. “It was a matter of getting over the uncertainty of selling a non-physical product. I just wanted to make sure it was all OK.”
One of the things that gave him confidence as his career progressed was meeting with clients. “It really transformed the way I interacted with others,” Brummitt says. “I had some ‘aha’ moments about how to communicate. It wasn’t too long before I started taking on more roles and more responsibility. It was a process of growing my own communications skill set.”
Pushing the envelope
Brummitt says that if he has a criticism of the benefits industry, it’s that it hasn’t kept up with the rest of the world when it comes to providing clients with a consumer-friendly product. “It’s a bit antiquated,” he says. “Were in a business where new things pop up all the time, and we have to be ready for that. If we’re not willing to learn, we’re not good consultants.”
As part of his push to learn new ideas and seek innovation, Brummitt has joined industry groups such as Health Rosetta and the Q4 Intelligence Network. And like a lot of forward-looking brokers, Brummitt is also exploring the idea of a more transparent, fee-based brokerage model.
“When it comes to transparency, I think it all comes down to someone wanting to see what they’re paying for and having control over their experience,” he says. “Broker compensation has become a big topic of conversation,” he adds. “I think that’s a very healthy conversation, and I’m in the process of transitioning to more and more fee-based work. I’d love to say I’ve flipped the switch and done it overnight, but that’s just not the reality for myself or my firm.”
A different market
Brummitt notes that the market in Texas has been ahead of national trends in one way—many of the state’s consumers were comfortable with high-deductible health plans before those products were common in other markets.
“The consumer mentality was different here. We’ve been living in the high-deductible realm for a lot longer than other areas of the country,” he says. “I was selling $2,500-deductible plans in 1997. The tolerance of the consumer was better; it was fine to not have so many things covered by the health plan and just pay for things as they come up.”
But the continuing increase of both health insurance premiums and deductibles has made a difference, he adds. “As most traditional product prices have been driven up over the past five or six years, there’s been a cry for the plans to cover more. When you had a high-deductible plan, pre-ACA, you weren’t paying that much. Today, those same plans cost three to five times what they did previously. That’s caused people to want more in return. I think it’s changed the temperature and caught us up to other regions.”
Learning the language
Brummitt is a strong believer in the importance of learning new things as a broker. He says today’s benefits market is forcing brokers to become more educated on health care topics. “I believe we’re hitting a new tipping point,” he says. “As we get into more conversations about controlling health care costs, provider costs and medical management, one of the biggest challenges will be brokers adapting to medical terminology that they haven’t been used to. We’re used to talking about business and regulation, but talking about clinical outcomes and what metrics mean, I think that’s going to be the big challenge over the next five to ten years.”