The early bird gets the worm. That’s an applicable motto for the National Association of Healthcare Underwriters Capitol Conference attendees, who packed into the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill Tuesday at 8 a.m. for an overflowing session of speakers.

The eager and energetic crowd gathered for an opening talk from Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chair of the Senate Small Business Committee. Landrieu’s remarks were brief and generally broad as related to health care reform and her efforts for small business owners. “[The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] will bring 30 million more customers to your doorstep,” Landrieu said, adding that she’s not opposed to tweaking the law and mentioned a related bill that she’s sponsored on behalf of insurance brokers and agents.

Former Obama campaign staffer Anne Fillipac — whose newest role is president of Enroll America, a nonprofit advocacy group formed to educate the currently uninsured Americans about health care — asked that brokers, who she said are respected leaders in their communities, help with the campaign. She noted that research shows this personal issue of health insurance is best received by a trusted voice like a family member, church member or leader or health insurance broker or agent. “We need all hands on deck,” Fillipac said. “We know your networks are huge.” Astonishingly, she said that 78% of the uninsured are unaware that they will be required by law to purchase insurance in 2014. She mentioned that the biggest need for education is in metro areas, especially those in California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois and Georgia, as these are the locations where the most uninsured individuals reside. Of course this education, should a broker choose to help Enroll America, would not be likely to lead to sales as it would largely send people to public exchanges. But, she adds: “aren’t we all in the business to maximize the number of Americans who take advantage of new options of insurance?”

Dr. Jan Van Riper of the newly formed National Alliance of State Health CO-Ops addressed NAHU attendees to explain that co-ops were created under PPACA and are commonly confused by those in the industry as exchanges. They’re not. A co-op is a federal program to assist in the establishment and operation of nonprofit member-run group of health insurance issuers. There are 24 states who took advantage of federal loans offered to start such co-ops and according to Van Riper, they were smart. The loans got slashed in the fiscal cliff deal that was made on Jan. 1. While Van Riper said her group is lobbying for it to be overturned, it’s not likely.

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