The Tulsa Association of Health Underwriters hosted Governor Mary Fallin and Insurance Commissioner John Doak at a forum on how health care reform would affect the insurance industry. Addressing a packed house at the Tulsa Country Club, Governor Fallin repeated her opposition to the law and support of Oklahoma’s pending legal action challenging the ‘individual mandate’. She didn’t mince words about what that meant in the short term for implementation:
The fact of the matter is until a court, and the Supreme Court, rules on the health care bill itself, it’s still the law of the land, unfortunately. I don’t like it, but it’s still the law of the land.
However, the biggest point of contention for this group didn’t seem to be the individual mandate. Underwriters, agents, and brokers sell insurance, so if everyone is suddenly required to buy insurance, it stands to reason that they will benefit. Luncheon attendees were instead most concerned about insurance exchanges.
Exchanges, which we’ve blogged about here, are online health insurance marketplaces that perform many of the essential functions currently provided by agents and brokers. Individual and small group consumers will be able to access a comprehensive exchange web portal to search for, compare, and purchase private insurance online. The health care reform law requires that the exchanges present information about private insurance plans in a standard and easily comparable way. This is great for the consumer, but perhaps not so great for the broker currently playing this role. Many brokers voiced these concerns to the planning directors of the Oklahoma Health Insurance Exchange, Nicole Prieto-Johns and Derek Lieser.
The questions echoed the same nervous theme, “What room is there in an online exchange for a broker?” or, “Are carriers going to use health reform and exchanges to cut us out of the business?” The next speaker taking the podium had some very reassuring answers. Industry representatives found an unswerving ally in Insurance Commissioner John Doak, who made it clear that no matter what happened with health insurance exchanges, they had no reason to worry about their role in a rapidly changing health care system:
I’m an agent. I’ve made a living doing what you’re doing. [..]
I believe that I am here for a specific reason, it’s a difficult time, there is a lot of things that are changing. But I am here to represent you all, and to protect your jobs, and protect your livelihoods [….]
I have to take the stance to protect your role at every point possible in this discussion.
Commissioner Doak and Governor Fallin urged industry representatives to stay actively involved in the planning process by signing up for Oklahoma Health Insurance Exchange working groups. Agents should also be reassured by their guaranteed spot on the Health Care for the Uninsured Board (HUB) which is being expanded under HB 2130 to oversee the Oklahoma Exchange. HB 2130 also reserves three spots for insurance company representatives and one for the Insurance Commissioner himself. However, so long as reforms continue to make more information directly available to consumers and businesses, the traditional middle men are likely to remain nervous.