About 600 licensed insurance agents and brokers from five producer associations will descend on Capitol Hill July 14 to 15 as part of a massive health care reform lobbying effort on behalf of the employee benefits industry.

Key players include the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, which calls itself the Big “I,” AHIA, the health and employee benefits arm of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers (CIAB), National Association of Health Underwriters and National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors.

The groups are seeking provisions to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions’ (HELP) bill dictating who would be able to sell health insurance through the so-called gateways or insurance exchanges that would be created.
Considering that presidential aide Nancy-Ann DeParle and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius believe insurance brokers add unnecessary costs to the nation’s health care system, the groups have their work cut out for them.

“We just want to educate lawmakers and their staffs about how a public plan would undermine the private system and make sure that everyone understands the role that brokers play in the current system and value we bring to the table,” says Joel Kopperud, CIAB’s director of government relations.

The chief objective is to convince lawmakers that the private sector is best suited to help them identify wasteful spending and reduce the nation’s soaring health care tab, which accounts for 17% of gross domestic product and is expected to reach 20% by 2017.

“We think there should be affordable options for people, and by that we mean there are too many mandates that carriers must provide particular coverages that some people just don’t want or need and don’t want to pay for,” explains AHIA President-Elect Bill Foudy, who also runs Foudy Insurance Agencies, Inc. in Los Angeles.

Among the reforms being supported: an individual mandate forcing everyone to buy health insurance, guaranteed issue, portability, community rated insurance pools for groups of fewer than 50 people, health insurance exchanges that expand access to care for the unemployed, self-employed or uninsured, and tort reform that would effectively end defensive medicine by capping malpractice claims.

Foudy says the trouble with an individual mandate is enforcement, noting how difficult it already is for states to force motorists to buy auto insurance alongside annual car registrations and occasional license renewals. It’s at a point where “people with auto insurance also buy uninsured motorist coverage to protect them from the people that are driving without auto insurance,” he observes.

A key strategy for the groups will be to show that they’re not trying to obstruct health care reform, want to improve competition in the private marketplace and promote a fair solution for consumers.

“We believe that it’s absolutely necessary to keep costs under control both for the economy and for the industry, but also need to express our concern about the direction things are going given the speed of the debate,” notes John Prible, the Big I’s assistant vice president for federal government affairs.

Guest blogger Bruce Shutan is a former managing editor of Employee Benefit News and freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

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