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The most difficult challenge in personal and professional growth is change. People naturally resist change for many reasons, but perhaps the main reason is that we simply become comfortable doing things the same old way, regardless of the outcome. And even if we are not completely satisfied with the experienced outcome, we fear the unknown even more, so we continue to do what’s comfortable. In other words, people have an inherent need for familiarity and familiar routines help assuage our anxieties.

Developing positive change through the process of learning and applying new techniques and concepts can be uncomfortable and stressful (as well as requiring extra effort). While we are working toward learning and applying new strategies we must step out of our comfort zone and into the unknown and untested. The challenge with that is that it leaves us vulnerable to surprises and new obstacles which we may not have faced before. This, in turn, requires us to seek solutions in a manner that is different from which we are ordinarily accustomed. We must condition ourselves to think differently than we have thought in the past.

Change also challenges our confidence. We must accept the reality that we may be trying to operate at a level that exceeds our current knowledge and experience. That’s what growth and change are all about, becoming someone that you were not; someone more knowledgeable, more skilled and better equipped to handle whatever comes your way in both sales and in life.

So, if change is so difficult, how do we implement it? How do we move past the obvious obstacles and initiate the kind of lasting change that will impact our careers and our lives? Let’s take a look at a five-step process that will help you work your way through change.

Admit that change is necessary.

One of the most difficult problems for many salespeople is to admit that change is necessary. Many salespeople think that are better salespeople than they actually are. Despite a history of past sales success, we can always learn techniques and concepts that will make us stronger communicators and more effective closers.

Create a strong vision of the benefits of change.

Have a clear vision of what you hope to gain by changing, give the benefits of changing full and detailed thought. It is not enough to merely say, “I will close more sales.” What is the benefit of closing more sales? And not, “I will earn more money.” What are the benefits of earning more money? How will it affect your family? How will it affect your life? How will it affect your career? In other words, give serious thought to the benefits the change will bring to you. The clearer and more defined the vision, the greater the desire to achieve it.

Craft an implementation plan.

Lay out a systematic and well-defined plan as to how you will implement the desired change. Think of it as more of a step-by-step building process rather than a complete demolition. Change comes best in small steps. With regards to your sales skills and presentations, make a list of all the ways you wish to improve. Do you need better listening skills, better questioning skills, better interview skills, better prospecting skills, or something else? Once you’ve developed your list, decide which one you will begin working on first. (Don’t try to work on everything on your list at one time – this can befuddle and frustrate even the most-determined of us and may ultimately lead to discontinuing your attempt to effect positive change). Once you identify what you want to work on first, begin initiating the change. And once you have accomplished the desired improvement, move on to the next.

Find someone to assist you with your change and help with accountability.

Because change requires us to move out of our comfort zone, it is easy to abandon plans for change. We gradually slip back into our old ways of doing things and forget that we ever had a plan. Partner with a colleague who will help you role play so you can implement the desired changes faster and more effectively. Make sure he or she holds you accountable for implementing your desired changes (and be sure to let them hold you accountable – don’t get resentful if they try to motivate you, just get motivated!). Get together a couple times a week to discuss how things are going and to practice.

Reinforce positive change with reward.

Just as you have an implementation plan, also establish a reward plan. Positive change deserves positive rewards. Once you have reached the first change goal on your list have a predetermined reward assigned. You know what motivates you. Maybe it’s a nice dinner with your spouse or a weekend getaway. Maybe it’s a new golf club or tennis racket. It’s up to you; use whatever reward you want because it is that positive reward that will reinforce your desired change.

Sometimes it’s possible to have tremendous goals in place, but the change required to achieve them proves to be overwhelming. Change is possible; it just requires the desire and a good plan of approach. Goal Setting can help. The next step is yours. Decide what you want, establish a plan on how you can achieve it and begin moving toward it today!

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More information is coming out confirming that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not only bad for job creators, bad for insurance carriers, but now we are learning that the ACA is bad for insurance agents as well.

For those who believe in free markets, and the importance that insurance agents play in insurance marketplace, new developments around compensation for agents who sell coverage under the ACA are very discouraging.

You see, insurance carriers are no longer being reimbursed by the federal government for their losses under the ACA, and as a result are drastically reducing agent compensation to help make up for their underwriting losses.

As a recent article from insurancenewsnet.com points out, Congress has refused “to provide health insurers with $2.5 billion as part of the Affordable Care Act’s risk corridor program” to cover their 2014 losses.

The risk corridor program as part of the ACA was supposed to transfer profits from profitable carriers to unprofitable carriers; however, since most of the carriers offering coverage through the ACA are losing money, the federal government was supposed to make up the shortfall. However, Congress has failed to release funds to cover carrier losses. Hence, the pressure on agent commissions.

Unfortunately, this new reality is likely to continue as the powers in control of Congress look for ways to undermine the ACA hoping that it will eventually need to be replaced by a more federal-budget-friendly version of healthcare reform. Certainly, the upcoming election will have a significant influence on the long-term future of the ACA; however, as long as Congress is controlled by those opposed to the ACA, the impact on agents is likely to remain a very unfortunate, unintended consequence of a law that is struggling to survive.

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When you boil HIPAA Privacy down to its very essence, it’s about respecting and protecting individual privacy rights regarding one’s “Protected Health Information” which refers to any information that relates to the past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition of the individual; the provision of health care to the individual; or the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to an individual; and that either expressly or most likely identifies the individual.

This means that if you are collecting information for individual applications, you have collected Protected Health Information. This means that as part of your capacity as an insurance salesperson, you collect personal health information of potential clients, and you create, transmit, or maintain that information, you have yourself a stash of Protected Health Information subject to HIPAA privacy and you have obligations to safeguard that information.

How well are you fulfilling that obligation today? Think about that for a moment. How much client HIPAA-Protected Health Information do you have stored electronically or in paper form? Are you following all of the HIPAA requirements for handling and storing your client’s Protected Health Information? Are you even aware of what your responsibilities are and the liability you face should the information be lost or stolen?

Now consider this. Will your family have to continue your obligations in the event you pass away unexpectedly?

Wait. What?

Chances are your loved ones have no idea how sensitive the information is that you hold. Nor are they aware of the legal liability which improper disposal of this information could cause. Is your HIPAA privacy plan sufficient so that it not only protects your clients’ information today but also in the event something unexpected should happen to you?

The Department of Health and Human Services has imposed the burden to adhere to HIPAA privacy standards upon the entity with the direct relationship to the front-line service provider. This means that a Business Associates (that’s you), who previously enjoyed a level of insulation from HIPAA’s enforcement provisions, willnow find themselves directly exposed to regulatory penalties.

If this post has left you with more questions than answers, that’s good. EasyCE’s 3-hour continuing education course entitled “An Insurance Professional’s Guide to HIPAA” will answer many of your question and provides Easy Tips to help keep your insurance practice HIPAA compliant.

Visit www.easyce.com for more details. All courses are $5.00 per credit hour or less – multi-course package pricing available for as low as $1.75 per credit hour (does not include state filing fees).

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A Health Care Directive is a written document that either allows an individual 1) to inform others, typically medical professionals and family members, about what kind of care is desired when the individual is not able to communicate those wishes, or 2) designates a person to make health care decisions on the individual’s behalf in the even he or she is unable to do so. There are typically two kinds of Health Care Directives – Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney or Health Care.

Also known as an Advance Directive, a Living Will documents the individual’s wishes for life-saving medical care, designating what kinds of care should be withheld or withdrawn. States will differ on the requirements for executing a proper Living Will, what kind of procedures may be addressed in the directive, and even the form or language that may be used. Generally speaking however, any competent person age 18 or older can execute a Living Will by signing and dating the directive in front of two competent and disinterested witnesses. A few states require the form to be notarized.

Not to be confused with Living Wills, a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is a document in which the signor appoints and authorizes another individual to make health care decisions on his or her behalf. Where the Living Will serves to represent the intent of the patient, the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care grants that power over health care decisions to another person. As with Living Wills, any competent person age 18 or older can execute the document by signing and dating it in front of two competent and disinterested witnesses. Notary requirements may apply.

For both kinds of directives, in order to be considered competent, both the signor and the witnesses must be at least 18 years of age and have the intellectual capacity to understand the gravity of directive and the freedom of will to execute it. To be considered disinterested, witnesses should not be related to the signor, should not have a financial stake in the signor’s estate, or be financially responsible for his or her medical care.

Because competence is vital to a validly executed directive, an individual’s chosen Advance Directive should be prepared along with other estate planning documentation and not in conjunction with any hospitalizations or impending surgery.

Remember, all advanced directives pertain to end-of-life issues and state governments take these considerations very seriously; if there is any ambiguity in the form or execution, the directive may be disregarded. Many states have prescribed language or forms that are available in the state statutes, through the state bar association, or available at hospitals and libraries. The American Bar Association has published a multi-state form for general usage that is available free on its website.

Learn more about advanced directives and other end-of-life planning with EasyCE’s continuing education courses - The Fundamentals of Estate Planning (3-Hours) or The Fundamentals of Trusts (3-Hours). All courses are $5.00 per credit hour or less (does not include state filing fees).Visit us at www.easyce.com.

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And Then There Were Three: Anthem Blue Cross Acquires Cigna in $54 Billion Deal

Since the advent of Obamacare, the medical insurance world has gotten noticeably smaller. In a move that surprises virtually no one, Anthem and Cigna reached a deal in late July in which Anthem would acquire all outstanding shares of Cigna stock in exchange for cash and stock considerations. The resulting Mega-Surer would cover 53 million members.
The current U.S. population is 320 million people. That means one in every six would be covered by Anthem/Cigna.
This deal comes hot off the heels of a couple of other industry acquisitions.
Earlier in July, Aetna agreed to acquire Humana for $37 billion. Together, the Aetna/Humana organization will cover 33 million members, or one out of ten Americans.
Coming in third in this arms unification race is UnitedHealth Group which recently completed an acquisition of Catamaran Corp., the nation’s fourth largest pharmacy benefit manager, for $12.8 billion so that UnitedHealth could boost its pharmacy-benefit business. UnitedHealth Group’s membership is reported at approximately 37 million members which translates into one out of every nine Americans.
Together, the big three Mega-Surers cover 123 million members. That means out of every five people waiting in line at your local coffee house, two of you have your medical coverage with a Mega-Surer.
So what does that mean for you? If you’re in the employee benefits or medical insurance markets, it’s likely going to mean another hit to your livelihood. Mega-Surers will likely envelop most of the smaller companies by being more able to price for (and absorb) catastrophic claims. This will result in fewer options and ultimately reduced comp.
And thanks to Obamacare, you know all about reduced comp, don’t you?
Many commentators from Forbes to USAToday have called to light the negative impact Obamacare and the insurance exchanges are likely to have/have had on insurance salespersons. For starters, depending upon the kind of policy sold, carrier must spend on claims 80% (for individual coverage) or 85% (for worksite group coverage) of every dollar received. The remaining 15% to 20% is available to cover administrative expenses, product development and filing, overhead, profit, and, oh yeah, sales compensation. The result is that for many insurance salespersons in the health insurance space, their compensation plummeted considerably.
Then, of course, we mustn’t forget the effect the state- or federally-sponsored health insurance exchanges have had on insurance salesperson income. Consumers now go directly to the companies through the exchanges though they do so without the expertise and guidance of an insurance salesperson.
To add insult to injury, Obamacare found yet another way to intentionally oust the salesperson from the process through the introduction of Insurance Navigators, individuals or organizations “trained and able to help consumers, small businesses, and their employees as they look for health coverage options through the Marketplace, including completing eligibility and enrollment forms” according to HealthCare.gov.
In essence Obamacare devalued health insurance to little more than a commodity like tvs and clothes. In fact, in a June 29, 2012 Forbes article, the migration of consumers away from insurance salespersons to direct, online exchange portals was compared to that which occurred naturally in other markets – for instance, the migration away from established brick-and-mortar companies like Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, or Borders to online giant Amazon.
But now, with the creation of these Mega-Surers, the industry finds itself one step closer to a single payer system which will be sure to completely eliminate the insurance salesperson from the health insurance space.
Throughout the passage and, um, regulatory modification of Obamacare, the insurance salesperson was disregarded or even vilified in absentia… Agent comp must be included in the companies’ non-claims expenses (and what’s the first piece to be reduced or eliminated). Insurance professionals who are required to take a 40 hour class to sit for their license and maintain continuing education to ensure they are properly trained to assist consumers are replaced by navigators who do little more than help calculate the subsidy and the lowest premium options.
Depending upon whose numbers you believe, there are anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million licensed insurance sales professionals in this country – this does not consider the millions of people employed as support staff. With the stumping and positioning for the 2016 elections already beginning, it’s time for you to remind your candidates of one crucial factor – that insurance salespersons across the country are an informed and active voting base. Collectively, the combination of insurance professionals and their employees is a group large enough to change the outcome of an election.
But now is the time for you to act if you wish to claw back that which has been and continues to be quietly removed from your practice. Below is sample correspondence that you can mail or email to your representatives as well as a link helping you to identify mailing addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. Note, snail mail and phone calls ring louder than email. Let your elected officials know you’re mad as heck and you’re not gonna take it anymore.
Here’s how to get in touch with your elected officials:

Sample Letter to Elected Official

Feel free to forward this article and letter along to your colleagues and urge them to join you in attempting to regain your ability to properly service your clients and to earn a respectable living in doing so.

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