In Cal Broker’s January 2020 issue we asked a number of industry professionals to weigh in with predictions on what the coming year might bring. Nobody predicted what actually happened in 2020! Who can blame them?
A pandemic of epic proportions — one that nearly brought the world to its knees — wasn’t necessarily on the radar for most of us. Now public health experts say we are in for a very rough first quarter 2021, but of course there’s light at the end of the tunnel in the form of COVID-19 vaccinations. Cal Broker checked back with a few of the folks who weighed in last year to get a brief comment about what we’ve just experienced and maybe a few encouraging words for our readers…
Naama O. Pozniak, CEO A+ Insurance Services in Valley Village, CA, and associate publisher of Cal Broker magazine
I call this period of time ‘the new now’, not the new normal. Because things are definitely not normal! We can’t let anything polarize us again. Now is definitely a time for collaboration. That is the lesson I think we should take from 2020. In our profession, we need to listen to people and try to understand at every level. With the pandemic we made big changes very fast and many are for the better. Telemedicine, virtual visits and more use of AI are all the right mindset for the future of healthcare.
Telemedicine, virtual visits and more use of AI are all the right mindset for the future of healthcare.
I can’t do justice to any talk about 2021, though, if I don’t reference Gahl Sasson, one of my favorite astrologers. Gahl recently mentioned that the biggest challenge of 2021 is that it comes in the aftermath of 2020! That is very clear to us all. But the good news is that 2021 will give us the potential to soar high above the challenges of 2020. Gahl says hopefully we will have the tools we need to change institutions, overcome racism, dissolve conflict, get rid of populism and nationalism, and reconnect to equality and globalcollaboration, ushering in a new age of freedom, equality, and innovation.
We are entering a period where democracy, progress, and humanitarian causes will play a significant role. To me this means we are evolving into a year that might take us out of the dark ages into a new way of collaborating and exchanging information, growing and quickening results and outcomes. The aim is to deliver healthcare that will allow us to heal and be happier, wiser and free!
Let’s hope that we will get to hug each other very soon. In the meantime, be thankful to be part of a community making a difference on so many levels.
Michelle Curry, CFP, Equitable Network, LLC, Woodland Hills (Equitable Network Ins. Agency of CA, LLC in CA)
What can you say about such an unexpected life experience known as 2020 and COVID-19? Can we just take a breath and pause for a second? This year came with so much emotional turmoil, yet there’s a silver lining in the ‘reset’ that it created for many peoples’ lives. I had set goals that I did not attain this year, but I also accomplished many things I had not intended.
Thanks to the forced and immediate adoption of virtual meetings, I was able to move my family to a new home, while actually improving efficiencies in my work. This has created more spaciousness in my life, which is required to envision growth, take care of yourself and live a life fulfilled.
This quantum slowdown also allowed me to make some strides in my inner work, identifying what truly is important in life and letting go of the rest — the things that do not support my growth. As we enter 2021 transformed by our collective experience of 2020, I am seeing things more clearly (my 20/20 vision pun still applies!) and remain hopeful and positive.
This year came with so much emotional turmoil, yet there’s a silver lining in the ‘reset’ that it created for many peoples’ lives.
Again, I will end with how I concluded my commentary from January 2020 as it still holds true today in 2021: I’m learning that we are all better served if we take time to really look at ourselves and treat ourselves with love and care. When you love yourself, that translates into having the ability and capacity to be our best selves with others.
LESSON LEARNED: MENTAL HEALTH JUST AS IMPORTANT
AS PHYSICAL HEALTH
Last year as we looked at 2020, we predicted that companies would begin utilizing technology more for online enrollments and onboarding new hires to eliminate the need for paperwork and simplify the overall process. Additionally, we saw companies beginning to explore more flexible scheduling options for employees and potentially incorporating mental health benefits. Fast forward to January 2021 and these predictions didn’t just come to life, they were adopted across industries! Almost every company pivoted to virtual onboarding, online enrollments, and obviously became very comfortable with having a remote workforce. We predict that in 2021, we will continue to see a digital transformation in the benefits, HR and broker industries as digital ways become the new norm. We also predict that mental health benefits are going to be a significant priority for employees when evaluating their company’s or prospective company’s benefits this year. Companies that are not yet incorporating mental health benefits within their benefit packages should make it a top priority to consider because, if 2020
has taught us anything, the mental health of employees is equally as important as the physical health.
— Robert Love, president of the Benefits Division at BenefitMall
Amy Evans, president of Los Angeles-based Colibri Insurance Services and founder of AlignWomen, a leadership and networking organization for professional women
Looking back on my projections for 2020, I can say that my bold goal of a 50% revenue increase was ambitious even for the best of years. Despite the pandemic, though, I’m happy to say that I’ll finish the year at a 20% revenue increase, 100% client retention and five new clients acquired. I’ve been able to refine and streamline my client service using technology tools like AgencyBloc, Ease and Zoom. The pandemic forced the clients that were resistant to technology to adopt it, and now they are seeing the benefits.
My AlignWomen community has been a lifeline throughout the year — for revenue-generating referrals, for sales and marketing ideas, and for personal and professional support. My AlignWomen Networking Masterminds were designed to be virtual even before the pandemic, so we didn’t need to change or adapt anything — we just kept right on meeting and referring.
2020 has empowered me to let go of the things that are unproductive and unfulfilling in favor of the things that really nurture me and contribute to my growth.
While the pace of my work never seemed to slow down, I did find a lot of additional time that was no longer taken up by commuting to client meetings and industry events. I was able to use this time to make a good dent in my reading book list (15 so far), continue production of my AlignWomen podcast, and launch a completely redesigned AlignWomen website.
Looking ahead to 2021, I am excited to really focus on the connections and activities that matter most to me. I’ve always valued quality over quantity, and I’ve found that 2020 has empowered me to let go of the things that are unproductive and unfulfilling in favor of the things that really nurture me and contribute to my growth.
Making sure decision makers understand insurance agents role in advocating for consumers in the time of COVID-19
Dede Kennedy, CHRS, LPRT is president of BenAssist Health Insurance Services. She serves as Legislative Chair & past president, LAAHU and as Legislative Council Mental Health Task Force Chair, NAHU
Agents have never been more important! The pandemic hits, that battle cry rings, we dig into disseminating information about COVID-19 laws and regulations to our clients. Last week we yet again find that our regulators and legislators do not understand the role we play for consumers. It is time to change perceptions and increase awareness.
The California State Senate Health Committee held a hearing on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020 on “COVID-19 Care: Role of Private Health Insurance.” The California Association of Health Underwriters (CAHU) was invited to testify on behalf of brokers. (Are you a member? If not, we need you!) As a part of the CAHU Legislative Council I was asked to share my balance billing story, a “specimen handling fee” from the local hospital. Two minutes goes fast.
The California Association of Health Underwriters (CAHU) was invited to testify on behalf of brokers. (Are you a member? If not, we need you!)
As the testimony from the other panelists unfolded and questions began, I saw with startling clarity that the role of the agentas a consumer advocate was in the back of no one’s mind. Despite my testimony moments before about the education, outreach, and support that our members provide clients and their employees, it was plain that dramatically more focused action was needed.
The Dept. of Managed Health Care (DMHC) and Dept. of Insurance (DOI) speakers indicated consumers should turn to them for questions and help with balance bills. The legal aid groups and consumer advocate speakers indicated consumers should turn tothem for help with balance bills.
I wanted to jump out of my skin. They truly do not know what agents do in the way of service for our clients. May this galvanize the fightin every one of us to stand up for our noble profession.
It is up to our profession to make sure every stakeholder knows what we do, for frankly if they don’t, agents will be cut asunnecessary in ongoing reform efforts. We must be at the table — or we will be on the menu. If you make a living selling and servicing health insurance — group, individual, Medicare — I strongly encourage you to become a member of your local chapter of California Association of Health Underwriters (CAHU.org). For less than a cup of coffee a day you can join us in the fight. Fuel the engine, jump in and engage, or volunteer. However you choose to support the efforts — it’s critical that you do. My takeaway from 2020 and heading into 2021: They need to know what we do!
Tony Lee (left) and Michael Wolff (right), Managing Partners – Dickerson Insurance Services, An Alera Group Company
It is more important now than ever to embrace technology to stay in the know. As our business model changes and we become more of a virtual world, this is a great time to reengage with a client and prospect base that is more captive and engaged. We at Dickerson are here for our brokers and the community and we want to support you in any way we can.
If you require any assistance, ask your Dickerson rep about how we can support you and your clients, as technology is key in this environment.
Leonard D. Schaeffer, founding chairman and CEO of WellPoint (now, Anthem), Judge Robert Maclay Widney Chair and Professor at the University of Southern California
Nearly a year ago, I wrote about the unabated problem of rising healthcare costs. Now, we are in the midst of a national, interlocking public health, economic and humanitarian crisis that has put our nation’s health and health care system front and center. More than 300,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 as the health care system has struggled to manage hospitalizations, PPE shortages, and keeping its workforce safe.
The pandemic has also revealed the flaws in our health insurance system. Prior to the pandemic, the uninsured rate was rising primarily because of cost. Now, an estimated 14.6 million workers and their dependents have lost employment sponsored health insurance. Some may be able to access COBRA coverage, Medicaid or marketplace plans, but many will become uninsured.
For consumers, agent and broker assistance in finding affordable health insurance may contribute something almost as meaningful as a vaccine: the knowledge that they will have access to health care when they need it.
Affordable coverage remains a challenge. Physician revenue has declined dramatically due to a significant reduction in office visits. Hospitals estimate a loss of more than $300 billion in 2020. The expansion of telehealth will offset some losses, but providers will face pressure to raise rates which will impact premiums. Health plans, despite fewer claims due to deferred care unrelated to COVID-19, will price for uncertainty. Employers, facing lost profits, may cut employee benefits. A threat tothe ACA also looms if the Supreme Court rules that the individual mandate is not severable from the rest of the law. A contested election added to this environment of upheaval.
A year ago, I described a future of universal coverage facilitated by agents and brokers helping consumers navigate the complexities of choosing a plan. No one could have guessed that, just a year later, the need for agents and brokers would never be greater. With COVID-19 vaccines nearing approval, the pandemic will end eventually. For consumers, agent and broker assistance in finding affordable health insurance may contribute something almost as meaningful as a vaccine: the knowledge that they will have access to health care when they need it.
Becky Patel, CEO, LISI
The past year, our industry has met unprecedented challenges. We’ve all come together to do what matters most — simplify employees’ access to quality healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We deeply appreciate all the extra hours that brokers have devoted to solving entirely new problems and overcoming new obstacles. Their work truly exemplifies their deep dedication to the well-being of others. We’re here with you every step of the way to meet these challenges together.
2020 is proof that a year can have more than 12 months — or at least feel like it. The year will be remembered for triggering far-reaching changes to our country and our industry. Nothing beats a pandemic for reminding folks of the importance of health insurance and to highlight inequities in coverage and access to care. Which means in 2021 healthcare reform will be at the forefront of politics and legislating. Again.
In spite of this pressure, however, less will get done than some fear and others hope. At the same time changes in the workplace — from increased automation to more employees working from home — will continue to impact our clients and our own agencies.
Benefit brokers will face more pressure to deliver visible value to their clients and their carriers. Success will come, as it always does, to those agencies with a plan and who take the time to prepare.
— Alan Katz, co-founder/CEO of Take 44, the company behind SF-based NextAgency