SAN ANTONIO — The National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) began its 81st annual convention this weekend with members sounding like beachfront homeowners going through the early stages of a long-anticipated hurricane.

Chris Harrison, the regional vice president representing NAHU’s southeastern region, said NAHU Meetingthe Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is simply the name for a storm that has long been in the formation stages.

“Health care has been on the debate front for 20 plus years,” Harrison said.

No one at NAHU, Arlington, Va., is claiming to know just what storm will look like in three years, or even whether PPACA will still be here in anything like the current form. But Mark Riley, an Irmo, S.C., benefits specialist, said NAHU members have to learn how the health care system is supposed to work under PPACA.

“I think we have to prepare for the change now,” Riley said. “We can’t wait to see if [the system is] going to change. If we wait, it’s too late.”

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Health insurance agents and brokers must respond to PPACA with the attitude that changes bring opportunities, according to Ruthann Laswick, a NAHU regional vice president and candidate for secretary, said

“We will survive” Laswick said. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that. But we’re never going to go back to the way it was.”

One thing agents and NAHU have going for them is that many energetic young agents and brokers are taking active leadership roles in local NAHU chapters, according to Steven Selinsky, NAHU’s outgoing president.

Robert Tretter, a past NAHU president, pointed out that one of the convention attendees, Omar Harris, was a Marine Corps captain who had just returned from Afghanistan and wants to be a health insurance agent.

“He wants to be part of our future,” Tretter said.

NAHU Chief Executive Officer Janet Trautwein, a former benefits broker, said the debate over the effects of the PPACA minimum medical loss ratio requirements on agents’ and brokers’ compensation may have been painful but has had some good effects.

Today, for the first time, even consumer groups that have traditionally had nothing good to say about agents and brokers are acknowledging that producers play an important role in the health insurance system, Trautwein said.

NAHU has tried to promote the value of health insurance products by producing a booklet featuring accounts from NAHU members about how health insurance agents and brokers can make a difference in their customers’ lives. The booklet also includes testimonials from the customers themselves.

In the long run, Trautwein said, she believes health insurance producers have a future. Trautwein has several children. ‘I would recommend this occupation to any of them,” she said.

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