The Health Care Act and the Meetings IndustryJuly 1, 2013

The Time Is Here to Educate, Inform and Explain By
July 1, 2013

The Health Care Act and the Meetings Industry

The Time Is Here to Educate, Inform and Explain


The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is causing acute upheaval in the insurance industry as anxiety and uncertainty prompted by its long rollout continue to mount. In turn, those realities — along with the need for insurance companies to find strategies that deliver profits from a changing marketplace — are motivating insurance companies to hold more educational and training meetings.

“The first issue that companies are really having to deal with now is that because the Supreme Court upheld the ACA, it is now the law of the land,” says Kimberly Stansell, an independent strategic planning consultant and event producer at Los Angeles-based Kimberly Stansell Events LLC, which serves a number of health care and insurance clients. “And that means insurance companies are having to deal with it, whether they want to or not. And the first thing that means is that companies are having to educate their workers about what the law means to their businesses in general. Then you have to look at what it means to your particular company and to you and your job as an individual. So the focus of the ACA-related meetings now is to educate, inform and explain things like organizational strategy.”

“Everyone is now asking, ‘How is this going to affect my business?’ So that’s why we have seen and continue to see an increase in the number of meetings.”

— Lisa Keilty, CMP, Vice President, pmc2 , Noank, CT

Lisa Keilty, CMP, vice president at Noank, CT-based pmc², a consulting firm that specializes in compliance and innovation-related issues for pharmaceutical and insurance clients, agrees that the ongoing implementation of ACA is driving a need for more meetings and seminars.

“The ACA has forc­ed insurance compa­nies to all look at each other and say, ‘How are we going to do this? How are we going to get paid less, but be expected to do more?’ ” says Keilty, who hosted a well-received session at Meeting Professionals International’s World Education Confer­ence last summer on how global health care regulations are impacting meetings and events. “And in insurance companies and health care companies and pharmaceutical companies, everyone is now asking, ‘How is this going to affect my business?’ So that’s why we have seen and continue to see an increase in the number of meetings. And the increase in meetings includes both face-to-face meetings and virtual meetings and webinars, because everyone is addressing those kinds of questions now. And it’s not just about sales or customer service. It’s about everything, including strategy and things like data mining so an organization can gather the information it needs to determine its strategy in the market.”

And the meetings are not only about what a company is going to do, Keilty notes. They are also about how they’re going to do it.

A Changing Industry

Mike Owens, senior vice president at Chicago-based GoHealth, an intermediary organization that represents 18 top-rated U.S. insurance companies and employs 4,000 independent agents, explains how ACA is changing the insurance industry.

“The Affordable Care Act,” he says, “will change both the major medical insurance products that are distributed to consumers under age 65 and the ways in which they are distributed.”

For example, Owens says, “Until now, the typical major medical insurance product sold to someone under 65 years old has had a fair amount of underwriting so that the insurance carrier understands the risks of the person they are insuring and can charge them the appropriate premium. The ACA eliminates underwriting and pre-existing condition exclusions, and therefore makes insurance available to every consumer in the U.S. — but not based on their health or medical history, as in the past. So instead, insurance will now essentially be priced in ‘age bands,’ at various levels of coverage known as ‘metallic plans,’ which today are platinum, gold, silver and bronze. And the second piece of it is that the distribution of those products is likely to occur during an open enrollment period. This year, that period will be from October 1 to December 31. And during that 90-day window, consumers will be asked to choose their coverage option and will be assisted in that process by what is referred to as a ‘navigator.’”

One of the key issues that remains unclear at the moment is whether insurance agents, as they are known today, will be allowed to become navigators. “There are thousands of pages of legislation and tens of thousands of pages of analysis involved in understanding these issues,” Owens says. “I have read all of it, for, example, and it’s still reasonably unclear to me what it will mean.”

As a result, he says, there is enormous confusion, and also different interpretations, of how the ACA will impact the business operations of U.S. insurance providers and their agents and brokers.

That underlying reality, he says, is the real issue driving the need for more education and sales training meetings.

And for the individual agents who work for insurance companies, the issue is — in effect — survival and a continued ability to make a living.

“If their vocation is entirely based on selling insurance and some of their current income derives from the sale of major medical products — agents need to know how to plan their futures,” Owens says. “And they also need to understand if they are going to be paid for a particular kind of product and what they are going to be paid as they do indeed ‘navigate’ through the various new forms of insurance exchanges, whether those be national or state-run. And concerns about those things among agents is causing anxiety and a certain amount of disruption in the marketplace. And those are the kinds of things that companies have to deal with now.”

For example, Owens says, many agents are currently pivoting and focusing more on the sale of senior-care products and ancillary plans that represent the best opportunity in a changing marketplace.

But that means they are facing even more uncertainty and risk than the corporate entities that are simply trying to figure out what ACA means to their long-term business interests and profitability.

“And all of that together,” Owens says, “also means there’s a need for more meetings with Medicare carriers, for example, so that companies and agents can figure all of that out and find a way to take advantage of the changes.”

The Need for Emergency Education

Although the impact of ACA on a changing insurance industry is far-reaching, no aspect is more important today than the need for education, Owens says.

“That is also the topic that is most time-consuming,” he says. “And that’s because the products themselves are changing. Most successful insurance agents are well-versed and very good at selling major medical products and have been for their entire careers. But now, they need to spend time and learn all of the new products and how they work in relation to the new ‘exchange’ products that are the only ones that can be sold after the final implementation of ACA.”

Stated in plain English, Owens says, that means that there will be an ongoing need in the future for a lot more training and sales meetings, because for the most part, the things that will be driven by the final phase of ACA implementation haven’t even started to happen yet.

“And that’s partly because the carriers haven’t even finalized their products yet,” he says. “But once they do, they will all start setting up meetings designed just to train their agents about how they are adapting to the new marketplace.”

Major intermediaries such as GoHealth will be a major source of those critically important meetings held on behalf of client carriers, Owens says. “That means that now, my colleagues and I are attending more meetings hosted by carriers. But in turn, we will start holding more meetings to educate and train agents in how to survive and flourish in the new environment of a fully implemented ACA.” That intensive activity, he says, will begin in the fall and continue into next year.

Richard Newman, managing member of Boca Raton, FL-based insurance agency Life Audit Professionals LLC, agrees with Owens’ assessment.

“In a sense,” Newman says, “I don’t think the situation with ACA is any different from any other training that you have to do when something new happens. Before agents can make sales presentations, they have to understand how what they’re doing fits into the new situation. And in this case, that means a new law that’s out there. But that also means that in the current situation, part of the need is based around understanding the law itself, in addition to how it will impact your particular position in the industry.”

Newman’s personal perspective is more geared around long-term care and life insurance. “One related issue for my business that I do not really understand yet is how (ACA])affects the care that in the past was really not included under Medicare, in terms of things like convalescent care for somebody who was not getting better,” he says. “Currently under Medicare, you get services if you are getting better, but if you’re not getting better there is a cap. So that is one example of the ways in which implementation of ACA could impact my long-term care business. But that is also something that I do not fully understand yet.”

The point, he says, is that insurance professionals now need to analyze and understand how ACA will impact their particular product niche and livelihood, then educate their employees.

“At the moment, I’m concerned on two levels,” he says. “The first is as a business owner, how does this affect my business and my employees? And I have a growing business. We virtually doubled our staff in 2012. And if everything goes according to plan, we will double our staff again in 2013. So as an employer, my concern is what are the answers to all of these unanswered questions.”

However, he says, there is also a certain irony in his situation. “And that,” he says, “is that one of the things that has made my company so successful over the last few years is that I am someone who embraces change, because with change comes opportunity. So I believe that those of us who end up at the forefront of understanding how the ACA will affect our businesses — and are best at communicating that to our employees — will be the ones who benefit from the change, as opposed to being hurt by it.”

In turn, Newman says, that requires being nimble enough to concentrate on education and training, as opposed to resting on past accomplishments. “And if you do that, change will definitely become an opportunity rather than an obstacle,” he says. “And to me, the difference will then be between the companies that will devote sufficient time and resources to education and sales training and those that will not. So that said, I intend to push information out to my staff and the people I do business with as rapidly as I can, so they can take that information and use it to their advantage going forward. I see education and training as a way to set myself apart out there. And I believe that by doing that, people will flock to us because there are so many questions and concerns about ACA.”

Meeting Mechanics

Just as ACA is creating a need for more meetings, it is also requiring some changes in how companies conduct their meetings.

“The urgency of the situation,” Stansell says, “is causing companies to be open to different types of meeting venues, because if they need to have meetings sooner rather than later, instead of booking the traditional places they’ve always met in, they have to be open to more kinds of meeting venues and spaces to be able to hold the meeting now.”

For example, she says, the immediacy of many ACA-related meetings is having an impact on destination selection. “And that includes holding more meetings closer to home, as opposed to the destinations the company has traditionally used,” she says. “But the other big issue is that companies are also being more flexible, in general, about the way they are staging these meetings. And in some cases, that means companies that historically have not done webinars are doing them now because they meet a specific kind of need. So more webinars is one definite trend I’m seeing now.”

Another trend Stansell cites is how meeting agendas and content are being handled. “Because the implementation of ACA is a complex subject, the engagement element of meetings is being focused on differently,” she says. “For example, instead of someone just getting up and making a PowerPoint presentation, companies are now looking for activities that help them keep attendees more engaged on the specific topic at hand. And that involves finding ways to help them absorb complex subject matter in a more fun, lively and stimulating way.”

One example: more live tweeting during the meeting to make sure all questions and issues raised by attendees are addressed as part of the session. “The issue,” Stansell says, “is making sure that people are getting immediate feedback, right now, so that their questions and concerns can be dealt with face to face at the meeting.”

She sees more companies also using onsite, real-time polling tools to get feedback and make sure the content is being mastered. “And again,” she says, “that has to do with the complexity of the information and the need to make sure that people are fully absorbing it.”

Given the complexity of the subject matter, Keilty says, ACA-related meetings are also requiring more external resources, such as particular kinds of specialized expertise that can help companies assess the risks and benefits of any particular strategy or action.

“In fact,” Keilty says, “my business has increased significantly just because I get more calls from people saying, ‘I heard this, or I heard that. What’s really going on?’ We tell people what they need to know and what they need to be doing to protect themselves.”

Because ACA will continue to evolve and be implemented into next year and even beyond, its inherent uncertainties and challenges will continue to require specific kinds of meetings and seminars, Stansell says.

“The situation is fluid,” she says. “It’s like any other major piece of legislation that has ever been passed in this country through the years. It passes Congress, then it’s implemented and that is a fluid process. And the impact of the law is going to evolve. So the need for interpretation and education and training will continue. That is going to take a while. It’s not going to happen overnight. So that means there will be a need for these kinds of meetings well into the future.” I&FMM

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