How’s your “fight or flight” reflex these days? These two instinctive reactions to perceived danger have become the most common responses to health care reform legislation within our industry. Some people sense danger and are fighting change, while others are fleeing it — sometimes by pretending that nothing is happening.

While PPACA is indeed bringing about changes for our industry, we need to shift our perspective. There is a middle ground where health care reform gives us an opportunity to serve our customers even better than before. This is also an opportunity for us to engage and thrive in the midst of change.

Just because the playing field is changing, doesn’t mean that the basic equation has changed: People have needs, and we help meet their needs.

As we go forward in 2011, we should meet this opportunity with three basic actions:

  1. Educate
  2. Innovate
  3. Communicate

1. Educate

Education is paramount for both our clients and ourselves. We are the experts, and this is the time to help others with our expertise. One part of educating our clients is conducting our own research to make sure that we’re up to date on evolving health care changes, and that we’re able to interpret the news in ways that make sense for our end-user clients.

For example, one of the mandated changes well-known in the insurance industry concerns major medical loss ratios. A loss ratio of .85 on the dollar is significant to the carriers who write major medical policies and the brokers and agents who sell them. That’s big news, spelling an opportunity for brokers and agents to learn about new and different ancillary and voluntary products that can help supplement their potentially shrinking income base.

But what information do our end-user clients need from us? I believe they are seeking clarity and answers to the basic question “What does health reform mean to me?” A lot of voices compete for our clients’ attention, and most of those voices create confusion rather than clarity. Part of our value to them is to be subject matter experts who bring clarity, answer their questions, and help solve their problems.

Here are two scenarios in which our education and expertise can help our clients.

  • Age 26 inclusion: The new federal legislation includes major medical coverage for dependents up to age 26. For many clients, this is good news, and some will wonder, “Will the marketplace expect this change to apply to other products?” We should be prepared to tell our clients about anticipated age inclusion limits for products other than major medical. Even if we don’t have the final answers, we should be ready to advise them on trends and potentialities.
  • End-user empowerment: One solid trend we anticipate is that end-user consumer involvement will increase. Pursuant to this, will products become simplified and easier to understand? Probably. Will we see more direct-to-consumer marketing? Maybe. But the most significant aspect of end-user empowerment is how we take the opportunity to educate our clients about what they really need and want. Even if consumers look at different products online, many will still need a trusted adviser to cut through the noise and help match needs with solutions.

2. Innovate

Those of us who focus on filling the gaps left by major medical coverage have a heightened awareness of the diversity of needs and corresponding diversity of solutions. For those who have primarily focused on major medical, now is the time to step up innovation and exploration.

  • Don’t heedlessly succumb to the fight or flight mentality. Some of the changes are significant, but we still have many opportunities to serve our clients.
  • Be flexible, aware, and open to new ideas, products, and services.
  • Explore products that offer different kinds of coverage options.

Your innovation will empower your education. If you’re branching out from major medical for the first time, there are worlds of exciting and useful voluntary products to learn. As you’re learning about new and different products and services, look for solutions that fill in the gaps left by major medical and other standard coverage.

Remember, many employers use benefits as a recruiting and retention tool, so the opportunity exists to make benefits even more attractive and powerful at the employment level.

3. Communicate

Be proactive with your clients and everyone else in your professional circle. Continue to pursue feedback and enact change as needed. Ask clients timely questions about their needs:

  • Where are the coverage holes and pain points?
  • What are you experiencing that we didn’t expect?
  • Where are the gaps in your coverage?
  • What questions do you have about the legislation?
  • What problems can we help you solve?

That last question is key, because we are problem-solvers. That’s our role and our promise; it’s the reason our clients look to us for solutions.

Laura Milazzo is senior vice president of Benefit Solutions, a business unit of American General Life Companies. She can be reached at 713-831-3290 or laura.milazzo@aglife.com.

For more exclusive benefits coverage, visit ASJ’s Employee Benefits Resource Center.

Past employee benefits stories from ASJ:

How to Diversify and Grow Your Employee Benefit Business

Help Employees Meet Their Challenges

Selling an Employee Assistance Program — How to Build a Successful Business Case

When Selling Employee Benefits to Small Businesses, Knowledge is Power

Benefits Cost Versus Value: The New Math