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The recent health insurance rate increases might be hard on employers, but veteran benefits brokers appear to be holding up reasonably well.

Five years ago, managed care companies were boasting that they would use the Web to cut out brokers and their commissions.

Today, brokers and benefits consultants say there is nothing like four years of double-digit major medical rate hikes to bring employers and their group health advisors closer together.

Employers “see me as being on their side,” says Neil Williamson, president of Group Health Plans of Louisiana, a New Orleans benefits broker. “Its really an opportunity.”

Brokers who are slow to respond to the rate increases are having a hard time keeping customers, but those who work hard to tell employers about all their options can solidify relationships, Williamson says.

Employer dissatisfaction with sluggish brokers is good for more active brokers, because aggressive brokers now have an easier time getting appointments to talk to group health prospects, he says.

The current climate “is definitely a time when we have a lot of opportunity,” agrees Tom Billet, a senior consultant with Watson Wyatt Worldwide, Washington. “Nobodys yelling at us. Theyre calling us and asking us for help.”

Steve Whitty, national sales director at Principal Financial Services Inc., Des Moines, Iowa, recommends that benefits advisors prepare employers for challenging times by helping them with long-range benefits planning.

“Employers need to have a strategy,” Whitty says.

Employers that have thought about matters such as the percentage of payroll that ought to go to health care might have a somewhat easier time handling short-term price fluctuations, he says.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, August 19, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.