If you’re an agent selling major medical insurance, long-term care insurance or other health-related products, you may feel unloved right now. But, whether or not anyone has the cash to pay you, both the insurers and consumers need you now more than ever.
You help insurers make money by using capital to patch the holes in the plastic sheeting of wages, savings and government programs that protect consumers against financial devastation. The consumers’ plastic sheeting is still so flimsy that, according to the Commonwealth Fund, 16 percent of U.S. adults ages 19 to 64 with income over 400 percent of the federal poverty level put off getting dental care in 2016 because of worries about the cost. Ten percent of those “high-income adults” put off going to a doctor when they were sick.
Insurers, meanwhile, face two huge constrants on what they can sell safely: lingering low interest rates, which smother long-term care insurance, long-term disability insurance and other long-duration products; and Affordable Care Act chaos.
But insurers need to make up for dormant markets by expanding distribution for the products they think they can still sell: supplemental health products, such as accident insurance, critical illness insurance, hospital indemnity insurance, short-term health insurance, short-term disability insurance and short-term care insurance.
When the federal individual major medical rules come back into focus, and insurers know what they want to sell, they will have a sudden need to explain the new products to consumers. Insurers may try to deliver their explanations through the web and mobile sites, but they are likely to re-discover what the ACA public exchange system recently confirmed: that a great insurance sales site makes a fine source of leads for live-human agents. The LifeHealthPro archive is full of stories of insurer-to-consumer web sales first that ended up courting agents and brokers.
Celent, a financial services technology research firm, has recognized the ongoing need for health agents’ skills by working with Vertafore Inc., the parent of the BenefitPoint system, to organize a survey of a few hundred agents in the health sector.
The survey team asked the participants what they want out of insurers.
In other words: The Celent team acknowledged that you are somebody.
Insurers still have to try to give you the tools you need to serve your clients, or live with the consequences for failing to do so.
About 90 percent of the survey participants said they sell Medicare products, and about 70 percent sell ordinary individual major medical. Roughly 40 percent sell individual disability insurance or long-term care insurance. One-third sell group health and group disability products.
Here’s a look at some of what the participants told the Celent team about insurers.
Yes, in the real world: Gravity makes balls more likely to fall. Low prices make agents more likely to sell products. (Image: Thinkstock)
Agents may like to sell high-quality products from insurers that offer great service, but the Celent survey shows that offering great products at a good price comes first.
More than 80 of the survey participants identified “competitive products” and “competitive prices” as must-haves, and just about all of the rest described important for an insurer to have. More than 80 percent identified both competitive products and competitive prices as must haves.
Responsiveness of underwriting ranked close to price, with about 75 percent of the participants describing that as a must-have. But there was a clear divide between agent interest in that and in other core insurer service capabilities, such as quoting speed and policy delivery speed. About 60 percent to 75 percent of the agents identified those as must-haves.
Agents informed Celent that they would like to get paid for their work. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Just about all survey participants said they want the insurers they work with to offer competitive commissions.
The participants expressed more dissatisfaction with compensation than with any other aspect of the insurer-agent relationship. Only half of the participants said their top carrier offers good or great compensation. About 20 percent rated their top carrier’s compensation as below average or terrible.
Agents would rather not see their personal financial information hacked. (Image: Thinkstock)
3. Data security
The Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been throwing the book at hospitals and health insurers with health data security problems.
Agents also seem to see data security as a top priority.