With health care reform looming, 2011 is setting the stage for perhaps the most challenging yet opportunistic decade in many agents’ careers. As of now, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has mandated that 80 to 85 percent of a policyholder’s health insurance premium must be spent on actual medical care – the controversial medical loss ratio guidelines that have generated so much debate within the industry.

Currently, the legislation excludes agent and broker commissions from that percentage, meaning that many of us face potential revenue hits as health insurance carriers adjust their cost structures in order to comply with the regulations. So, how will you stay in the game and maintain your livelihood? Here are a few tips.

Sell products that are not affected by health care reform

The demand for voluntary and supplemental products is expected to grow. Such voluntary benefits as group dental, vision, and critical illness may be offered at no cost to the employer, who stands to benefit from a boost in satisfaction among their current and prospective employees. If you’re not planning to include voluntary benefits in your product offerings, someone else will outsell you in this area, and potentially in other areas, too.

Master the cross-sell

What else does your client need? Think like an employer, and frame your sales approach appropriately. Emphasize the “what if’s,” not the “what is,” and weave this strategy in to your cross-sell. Sell the product in situational terms – not dictionary terms – by stressing the employee’s need and the benefit to the employer.

If you’re discussing life insurance with your client, it’s a good time to ask if their employees are prepared for the other “what if’s” in life. What if they survive a serious car accident? What if they are diagnosed with cancer or suffer a heart attack or stroke? What if they can’t work or pay everyday living expenses? By describing the coverage in “what if” terms, you’ll grab the client’s attention, and could persuade them to offer both accident and critical illness insurance in addition to life insurance.

And now that you’re offering all three products, you earn commissions on all three instead of surrendering the critical illness and accident insurance sales to a competitor. Remember, if you are not talking about these products, someone else surely is. Plus, carriers may offer a cross-sell bonus.

Get educated

If you’re going to sell additional products, you’ll need additional education, too. Look for a carrier that will teach you the ins and outs of selling multiple ancillary products. Your ability to speak as an authority will boost your credibility with your clients and distinguish you from the competition.

Consider an off-cycle enrollment

It’s going to be a tumultuous year for health care plans, and clients will be overwhelmed with the continued regulatory changes and implementations. You’ll have more attention from clients off-anniversary, which will allow them to focus on the voluntary products they need in addition to health insurance.

It’s no question that 2011 will be an uncertain year for agents. But one thing is for sure: It’s better to embrace and prepare for change than scramble to adapt.

Erich Sternberg is president of AlwaysCare Benefits Inc. and its sister company, Starmount Life Insurance Company. AlwaysCare is a nationally licensed provider of individual and group ancillary benefits, including dental, vision, life, disability, critical illness and accident insurance. He can be reached at 888-729-5433.

For more exclusive health insurance coverage, visit ASJ’s Health Insurance Resource Center.

Past health insurance stories from ASJonline.com:

Corporate Health Strategies: The Way to Leverage Health Care Reform

Winning the Health Care Reform Battle

When Selling Employee Benefits to Small Businesses, Knowledge is Power

Decoding State Health Insurance Exchanges

PPACA, State-by-State: A Q&A with Oregon Insurance Administrator Teresa Miller