SAN ANTONIO — Mel Schlesinger, the incoming president of the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU), would like to be a president of NAHU who helps NAHU members adapt to whatever the new benefits word will look like.

Schlesinger, a self-employed Winston-Salem, N.C., sales coach, is taking over as head of NAHU, Arlington, Va., Wednesday. He himself began to prepare for changes in the health care system in 1991, by selling his group health business and focusing on the voluntary dental market. He Mel Schlesingerwill be leading NAHU at a time of questioning whether major medical insurance agents and brokers will continue to exist.

Here this week at NAHU’s annual convention, a few major medical insurers have booths in the exhibit hall, but the traditional major medical insurers are outnumbered by insurers selling worksite products, long term care insurance, disability insurance, group life insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, and other products that might appeal to producers looking for a way to diversify away from major medical.

Schlesinger said during an interview that he is optimistic about the future of the people who have been selling health insurance.

“The rumor that the health insurance agent is going away has been greatly exaggerated,” Schlesinger said. “They make a difference in people’s lives.”

Efforts to repeal or block implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) as a whole seem “highly unlikely” to succeed, and, if PPACA takes effect as written, it will devastate the private health insurance system, Schlesinger said.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seem to be open to listening to agents, but oblivious to the risk that PPACA market rules set to take effect in 2014 will cause severe antiselection, Schlesinger said.

But Schlesinger said he believes NAHU can give members the tools to thrive.

“Yes, PPACA is a problem,” Schlesinger said. “Yes, it’s a horrible bill. But, at the end of the day, everything changes.”

Customers will need agents’ help more than ever to cope with the change, Schlesinger said.

To stay in the game, agents have to be like IBM and Nokia, Schlesinger said.

“IBM didn’t start out as a technology company,” he said. “If they had remained tied to a single product, they’d be gone. Nokia started out as a paper company.”

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