I just returned from the annual meeting of the National Association of Health Underwriters, which was held in San Francisco, where I and some of the writers for this magazine put out four issues of Daily News papers that covered events and sessions over the course of the convention.

It was a lot of fun, particularly because the rhythm of doing a daily is so different than doing a weekly.

Part of what made the time enjoyable was witnessing the continued rejuvenation of NAHU. There was a lot of optimism in the air–and as I’ve already admitted in this space, I’m an incurable optimist. So, it’s nice to be surrounded by the feeling.

Pretty much everyone agrees that Janet Trautwein, NAHU’s CEO and executive vice president for almost a year now, has done a terrific job of reinvigorating the group with a new sense of mission and purpose. This has been reflected in the growth in membership, which now stands at 20,200.

You also get a sense of renewal from the fact that a lot of different things are going on and getting started. This is usually the sign of a healthy organization. Just think of the places you’ve worked or groups you’ve belonged to where everything is same old, same old…and you’ll know what I mean.

The optimism at the meeting was also welcome because most of these agents sell health insurance in one form or another and these days, health insurance is not exactly a breeding ground for optimists.

But here was outgoing NAHU President John Nelson taking leave of office with a passionate statement of why he is so very optimistic on the future of agents in the health insurance business.

Nelson gave a number of reasons for his optimism. First, he said, “we will have jobs as long as the American public has what it wants and needs–choice.” This is why competition is so important in the business, he said.

“The most effective way for insurance companies to deliver their products is you, the agents,” he continued, “and the insurers know it. Each agent has relationships that companies can’t get to without agents.”

The second reason Nelson feels so optimistic is that the rise of consumerism is good for agents. Americans are starting to ask two questions, he said, which are: How much does it cost? And why does it cost so much?

As information about health care becomes more transparent, the situation for agents will become even better, according to Nelson, as consumers start to make decisions on health care based on the information available.

The third reason for Nelson’s optimism is the “role of all of us in this room. We care about our clients and this business.”

Finally, Nelson said, people are hungry and thirsty for good news. “We believe there’s hope and you need to share this. We’ve been winning the game for decades–and you need to share this. The state of the union is that we are awesome and we make a difference.”

Then there was David Fear, the incoming president, who has been instrumental in developing renewed mission and vision statements for the organization and who told this magazine’s Trevor Thomas that he is determined to turn them into reality.

“We are moving in a new and fantastic direction, and there’s a lot of optimism. Our members are saying there’s a bright future for our industry.”

Over the meeting’s four days, it was hard to resist the message. But who, given the choice, would want to?

Steve Piontek

Editor-in-Chief