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A 4th of July selfie

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Selfie. The word itself is kind of silly. The variants are even sillier. There is the “welfie” (workout selfie), the “drelfie” (drunken selfie) and the ever-popular “bookshelfie” (taken in front of a bookshelf). Yet as silly as the word may be, it was the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2013.

It seems that everyone is taking them. From the President huddling with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Nelson Mandela’s funeral (poor taste?) to Anthony Weiner (ugh!) to the ubiquitous Kardashians (how many of them are there, anyway?) — many varieties abound. According to Oxford, use of the word “selfie” was up an incredible 17,000 percent in 2013.

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Before we give the word a proper and perhaps overdue send off, it might be useful for us to add one last category: the “helfie.” This would be a health care selfie. You know how to do it. Just hold your phone’s camera at arm’s length, make sure you look your best and… snap! Wait! What? Who is that tall guy with the white stars on his top hat photo bombing your selfie? It’s your wealthy uncle from Washington.

What a nuisance! He is in every shot. Will he ever go away? Not likely. He first began appearing in health care snapshots in the mid 1960s — long before anyone ever heard of a “selfie” — and he will probably be there for the foreseeable future.

While we can try to Photoshop him out, the best course of action might be to focus on the foreground rather than the background.

PPACA will continue to morph. Regulations will change over time to reflect realities on the ground. Politicians will come — and go.

Yet we are still here. We are here because, change as we must to adapt, we provide something that is valued in the marketplace. Two recent examples validate that statement.

Last month the liberal Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) updated their Consumer Assistance Dataset. The survey asked consumers about the sources of information they used when researching health plans on the marketplaces, and asked them to rank their satisfaction with each.

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Those surveyed used a variety of sources to get information. Unsurprising (at least, to those of us in the business) is that the respondents were most satisfied when they worked with brokers. Consumers found working with insurance agents and brokers the most helpful (83.9 percent), and found call centers the least helpful (58.1 percent).

“People are using multiple sources of information to choose the plan thatis right for them,” according to Katherine Hempstead of RWJF. “Spreading the word about enrolling in insurance coverage is important and challenging, and research into consumer patters and preferences can help improve the process for the next open enrollment period.” Some have taken that to the next level.

Maryland originally opted to build its own insurance marketplaces but has not built an online employer exchange. Maryland Health Benefit Exchange officials have decided to ditch the state’s efforts to build a new online small business exchange and have decided instead to turn to the state’s insurance brokers in order to build their own version of a statewide employer marketplace.

The move will save money for the state, which is great if you are a taxpayer in Maryland. What is better, writ large, is that is just one more bit of evidence that underscores the importance that brokers play. The state recognized that most small employers currently purchase plans through a broker and think that they will have more success using a system with which they are familiar – and which they value.

The smart money says that we will see more and more examples like these two. Regardless of Uncle Sam photo bombing your selfie, pay attention to the image in the foreground. You know…the one that your clients really care about.