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As we begin 2017, we thought we’d share our top three predictions for the New Year. Perhaps more than ever before, brokers who are able to see where the market is going will be able to position themselves for success. In contrast, those who are slow to respond could miss out on a big opportunity.

Prediction #1: HSAs will grow in popularity

This seems like a pretty safe bet: HSAs have grown at a steady rate since they were introduced 13 years ago, and there’s no reason to believe that this trend will reverse. Our prediction is that Health Savings Accounts will grow even more rapidly than in the past. More details on why we predict that in a blog post later this month, but here’s an overview:

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Unhappy Clients? Show Them This.

If you’re like most agents, you’re probably hearing a lot of complaints from your individual health insurance clients these days. There is, after all, plenty to complain about: higher premiums, higher out-of-pockets, reduced formularies, smaller provider networks, and fewer carriers offering plans. Once covered, a lot of people end up paying for most of their care themselves since a majority of services are subject to the calendar-year deductible, leading some to question why they have health insurance at all.

When faced with this question, agents normally point out that the real reason for insurance isn’t to cover lower-cost services like doctor visits and prescriptions but rather to protect people against big, unexpected claims. In the same way that you need homeowner’s insurance in case your house burns down, you need health insurance in case you wind up in the hospital. That’s a true statement, but if your clients still don’t see the value in today’s plans, we have another idea. Why not point out the features of the policy they might actually use?

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A Look at the New “Simple Choice” Plans

After warning for months that consumers will have fewer choices when shopping for individual coverage this fall, in this article we’ll discuss some new options that may be available for the 2017 open enrollment period.

While it is true that health insurance companies are pulled out of the marketplaces in many areas, many of the non-profit co-ops are going under, and some of the biggest insurance companies are merging together—all of which reduce competition and limit the options we can present to our clients—it’s also true that the number of carriers and number of plan options differ from market to market. In some areas, there’s still a pretty good selection of plans both on-and-off the marketplace, and in those places consumers are struggling with an entirely different problem: how to compare a wide range of dissimilar products and make a buying decision they won’t later regret.

It is, after all, difficult to compare one health plan with another. With different premiums, copayments, deductibles, out-of-pocket limits, networks, and drug formularies, people don’t know how to prioritize the different features and benefits. They may have trouble choosing the best plan for themselves and their families, and might later question whether they made the right decision.

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With the exception of very small companies, the vast majority of employers offer group health insurance. And the number one reason they offer health insurance and other benefits is to attract and retain quality employees.

Now think about that for a second. Across the country, one of the top strategies for employers that want to recruit new workers and hang on to the ones they have is to do exactly the same thing that all of their competitors are doing. That doesn’t make any sense, does it?

Health insurance is not a differentiator. Unless the health benefits are much richer than what anyone else offers, employers cannot rely on the group plan as a recruitment and retention tool; it’s not going to make employees choose one company over another. That’s not to say it’s not necessary. On the contrary, in many industries health insurance is expected, so not offering it could deter would-be employees.

Perhaps it’s time to re-think the strategy. If employers can no longer rely on their biggest benefit—group health insurance—as a recruitment/retention tool, how can a company separate itself from the competition? That’s easy. It starts with recognizing the fact that health insurance is just one of the many different employee benefits a company can offer to its employees and the realization that the only way to differentiate yourself from the competition is to offer something that your competitors are not.

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Get Ready for a Lot of New Regulations

In some of our blog posts, we’re able to provide you with actionable information that will help you better serve your clients, and in others we try to give you some ideas that will help you sell more business. This post doesn’t fit into either of those categories. Instead, we just want to put a few things on your radar this Open Enrollment Period. We don’t have a lot of details on most of these items yet, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on what’s happening in D.C. during the last few months of President Obama’s second term in office.

While an outgoing president is often referred to as a “lame duck,” that doesn’t mean that nothing gets accomplished. Like most of his predecessors, President Obama still has a few things to mark off of his “to do” list before he hands over the reins to the 45th president. For that reason, we can expect a flurry of new regulations from the various government agencies under the president’s control. Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have been hard at work for the past few months, and they’re unlikely to slow down in the weeks to come. The new rules they’re busy writing could have a big impact on our clients starting next year, and some are already in effect.

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If you’re like most people in the health insurance industry, you’re at least mildly interested in this presidential transition process and the promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps you’re concerned, or maybe you’re cautiously optimistic, but it’s difficult to be completely neutral. It’s also difficult, though, to form a true opinion since there’s so much uncertainty about what will happen.

At various times, President-elect Trump has called Obamacare a “horror” and a “disaster” and promised to repeal it on day one of his presidency. At other times, he’s promised to preserve Medicare and Medicaid and even some of the more popular provisions of the health reform law. And, notably, the ACA wasn’t even mentioned in his recorded “first 100 days” speech that he released November 21, causing some to question whether it’s still a top priority.

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Don’t Take Your Individual Clients for Granted

This seems like an obvious statement, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s almost insulting – the idea that you might not be doing whatever’s necessary to earn your clients’ business every single year. We don’t mean it that way. The truth is that most agents reach out to their clients at renewal time each year, but most of the time no changes are necessary. If your customers are happy with their plan, their family situation and health status hasn’t changed significantly, and the renewal offer is reasonable, most people would rather stay put than to shop around and go through the hassle of changing their health insurance.

Of course, as we all know, these aren’t normal times—far from it. In this, the fourth annual open enrollment period under the health reform law, the majority of our individual clients will require our attention. And you know the reasons why:

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Many of us in the industry are stunned at the results of the presidential election. So, what does this mean for us, and how will this affect how we do business in the future? In this post, we’ll share a few thoughts about what a Trump presidency will mean for the health insurance industry.

First, it’s important to note that President-Elect Trump will have an opportunity that President Obama hasn’t had for the last six years; his party will control both the House of Representatives and the Senate. That’s big. What does that mean for us? The Republicans will have the ability to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with the support of President-Elect Trump.

And that brings up a big question: What they will replace the ACA with? We know that Trump supports selling insurance across state lines, expanding Health Savings Accounts, and possibly offering an individual tax credit for people with health insurance. The rest of Trump’s plans with regard to health insurance remain unclear. We’ll keep you updated as we get more information on their replacement proposals.

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One Last Chance to Sell Medicare this Fall

The Annual Election Period for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans has started (October 15th) and runs through December 7, which means you have very little time to get certified to sell these products if you haven’t already. And maybe that is your plan—to leave this market to agents who don’t mind the one-on-one nature of Medicare sales and are comfortable navigating a government website to find the best solution for their clients. Fair enough. But before you completely dismiss selling Medicare products, we wanted to share a few last-minute thoughts with you.

There’s an opportunity to earn commission

For some agents, this is all that they need to hear. Medicare products actually pay pretty well. How much? Take a look at the following numbers:

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Preventive Services for Medicare Beneficiaries

In a recent post, we discussed the preventive services that are covered on all non-grandfathered health plans under the Affordable Care Act. Since many of you have recently started selling Medicare products—either in addition to or in lieu of individual health insurance—we thought it would also be a good idea to take a look at the preventive care available to Medicare beneficiaries.

While we’ll focus on Original Medicare (or Medicare and a supplement) in this article, keep in mind that Medicare Advantage plans are required to cover, at a minimum, the same services that Medicare does. That means you can feel comfortable talking with all of your Medicare clients about these preventive services, and that’s important because, until recently, Medicare didn’t provide much preventive care at all. Older clients who have had Medicare for a while may not realize that these preventive benefits were added.

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