For the first time in my life I can commiserate with people who are losing their livelihood because of a government action. Just as some workers have been displaced because the government outlawed a product, changed an environmental regulation, or enacted a trade deal that smothered their industry, I too am on the receiving end of government legislation that will decimate my income. If Obamacare is repealed and the subsidies that make health insurance affordable for millions of Americans ceases, I will lose 90% of my clients. That means I will lose 90% of the commissions I receive from the health plans for assisting individuals and families with their enrollment into a subsidized Obamacare health insurance plan.
Repealing Obamacare Will Impact Agents
My fortunes as a health insurance agent were reversed with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. My career change as a health insurance agent in 2011 was disastrous. I realized that against my best intentions of wanting to help people with the complexities of insurance, my approach to selling insurance was not a winning game plan. I am not a salesman. I couldn’t, nor did I want to, convince people to spend money on an insurance product that was not in their budget. All I really wanted to do was provide consumer information.
Education Before Enrollment
When Obamacare came along my approach to education before enrollment resonated with consumers. I am not here to sell them anything. I am here to help them figure out the best health plans for their families. My marketing method has been to write informative stories about what Obamacare is, how it works, and how to enroll. Specifically, I focus on the challenges of the Covered California application process, Medi-Cal eligibility, properly estimating the household income, and how Advance Premium Tax Credit subsidies are reconciled on a taxpayer’s federal 1040 tax return.
Consumer Information Translated Into Clients
The old adage is that the sales profession is a numbers game. You have to run through lots of prospects before you actually make a sale. The more people you see, the more sales or enrollments you will make. My numbers have been the visitors to my website and views of my blog posts. I don’t call people to sell insurance. They call me. Of the tens of thousands of visitors to my website a tiny percentage actually contact me. A smaller percentage actually designated me as their agent to assist them in the health insurance enrollment process.
I probably have a horrible conversion rate when it comes to visitors verses actual enrollments. But I don’t care. I didn’t design my site to track people into buying something like most sales websites do. My goal is to provide information. I hope the information I put out the health plans, estimating Modified Adjusted Gross Income, and navigating the Covered California application is beneficial for all who visit my site, regardless of whether they contact me or not.
My Clients Are The Best!
The individuals and families that have contacted me for assistance have been golden. They read through my website, understood who I was, and felt comfortable with me. Consequently, I have work with lots of individuals and families that have been such a joy to know. These acquaintances have been a real bright spot in my life. Most of my clients are in the Bay Area or Southern California hundreds of miles away from my little home office crammed with old mechanical clocks that tick, and tock and chime during phone conversations. It has been so much fun to connect with people throughout California that share my values and perspectives on life.
Many of the individuals and families I work with have not translated into any income. For every household I enroll into a health plan that pays me a commission, there are at least two others that are Medi-Cal eligible. Agents aren’t paid on Medi-Cal enrollments except for a brief period in 2014 when we received a $58 per enrollment fee. I harbor the very unsuccessful salesman trait of not focusing on the money. Some of these Medi-Cal eligible people referred me to other individuals or eventually had an income increase that made them eligible for a private health plan that would pay me a commission.
Closing Window of Income
With the election of a president who has vowed to repeal Obamacare, and a Republican congress that is all too eager to do so, the age of education is closing. My brief window of income opportunity from the insurance industry also looks to be closing. Without the subsidies, my middle class family clients won’t be able to afford health insurance. I will be left to rust like the steel industry in the mid-west. My way-of-life, centered on educating consumers about their health insurance options, will wither away like loggers who cannot cut timber on federal lands or the fishermen who can’t harvest fish because of federally protected waters.
No Way-of-Life Is Sacrosanct
The horrible irony is that I’ve always maintained that no lifestyle is sacrosanct. The world changes and we have to change with it. The horse and buggy industry was decimated when the automobile became affordable enough to middle class consumers to purchase. Small local grocery stores have become a rarity as big box and super markets offer products cheaper with ample parking for large SUVs. Street cars gave way to buses. There are many stories of people who earned a living in a profession until regulations or technology changed. It’s the way of the world. From an economic perspective, we cannot encourage industries that are not efficient at allocating resources or are not supported by consumer demand. America cannot subsidize a person’s way-of-life.
What will Trumpcare Look Like?
I’m not sure what Trumpcare will look like or if there will be place for agents in the new health insurance landscape after Obamacare is repealed. Virtually all industries have gone to the super-sized model where large corporations and organizations control the sales channels. People say I could focus more on Medicare health plans or small group enrollments. Unfortunately, the rules surrounding the soliciting Medicare Advantage enrollments are so restrictive only the large health plans can comply with them. These are rules on how you actually interact with Medicare beneficiaries where all marketing material must be approved the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The small employer group market is dominated by large agencies that generally offer business products such as liability and fire insurance. Health insurance is not there prime focus but more of an after-thought.
No Money In Health Insurance
Most agents don’t really want to be involved in the individual and family health insurance market because the commissions have eroded to such an abysmal level. Whereas a business liability insurance policy might command a 15% commission, individual health insurance is around 2% or less for most of the carriers. Plus, the work load is greater with health insurance. An agent rarely has to service a business policy or even a residential homeowner policy. But when it comes to health insurance, there can be lots of time spent researching doctors, health plans, and maneuvering through the Covered California application. Many clients also experience problems with their health insurance during the year that the agent must attend to such as billing errors or updating the Covered California application because of an income change.
My Crystal Ball Has Always Been Broken
Sometimes I feel like the guy who bought Apple stock in the 1980s and then sold it when it hit rock bottom in the 1990s. I’ve never been a good prognosticator of future trends in any market place that would have benefited me financially. I drained my retirement fund during the low market prices of the great recession to finance my health insurance career change. Now the financial markets are back up and my future income is threatened with the repeal of Obamacare.
Now I have that old Frank Sinatra song “That’s Life” buzzing through my head.
That’s Life that’s what people say
You’re riding high in April
Shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June.
The question is will there be a June? Like all Americans over 50, unless you have the panache and pipes of a Sinatra, your future fortunes are extremely limited. But maybe it’s time for me to try my hand as a lounge singer. My hair is gray and I can almost carry a tune. Or maybe, my future lies as a greeter at Walmart. My hair is gray and I can almost say ‘good day’.