April 11, 2018
Existential Threat to Agents
by Mike Manes
If we don’t attack the cost problems because we believe nothing can be done, we will lose the agency system as we know it.
It was 1975. While completing an application for malpractice insurance, a dentist told me his address was 12345 Main St. I commented on how simple it was. He shot back, “So simple even insurance agents can understand it.”
In 1994, while speaking about managed care to a conference for librarians, I mentioned the rising cost of healthcare. There were about 250 in attendance. The audience was engaged. Suddenly, someone in the back of the room screamed, “Read the Golden Stethoscope and see what those bastards are doing to us!” I was shocked by this apparent “nut” in the crowd. Looking around, I realized the majority of attendees were nodding in agreement with the “nut.”
A few months later, working as the executive director of the Louisiana Managed Healthcare Association, I was at my office. Don, one of my board members, called to say I needed to come to his office right away because two federal agents wanted to talk to us.
I did what any of you would have done. I threw up in my garbage can, then went to Don’s office. We met with these two agents for about four hours. They were investigating physicians in two parishes who were allegedly colluding with a hospital to drive patients to their institutions. What they were doing was illegal.
Later that week, I spoke to the medical society in one of these parishes. One hundred doctors were in attendance. The doctors had just concluded a meeting that celebrated their leadership in funding a physician-owned HMO. This was a priority because no one was going to tell them what they could or couldn’t do in the practice of medicine.
See also: How to Earn Consumers’ Trust
Once introduced as the executive director of the Louisiana Managed Healthcare Association, I began my presentation on Managed Care 101. Ninety-eight of the doctors were polite hosts and a respectful audience. The two other doctors operated in full attack mode.
Toward the end of the program, one screamed at me from the back of the room, “I don’t think insurance companies and HMOs should make money in healthcare.” I explained that many people felt doctors were making plenty of money in healthcare and that premiums were too high.
I will never forget one doctor’s response. He said, “We’re just getting by.”
Ninety-eight of his colleagues bowed their heads in embarrassment. Later, I was told he was grossing $2 million a year. (I wanted to yell, “The Feds are going to get you,” but I didn’t.)
A November 2012 Gallup survey ranked 23 professions based on the public’s perception of their ethics. Agents rank seventh FROM THE BOTTOM – between legislators and attorneys.
Not everyone loves us as much as we love ourselves. The dentist, the librarians, the physicians and the participants in the ethics survey all have their opinions. I’m assuming most see themselves in a positive light but are often suspect of others. This brings me to the point of the story.
On TV in 1954, Robert Young played Jim Anderson, an insurance agent, in Father Knows Best. Those were simpler times, and insurance was not the expense that it is today. We now see ourselves as the Main Street agent (adviser), a trusted choice, “like a good neighbor” and other “feel good” personifications.
But more and more consumers I talk with are “mad as hell and won’t take it any more” with the cost of insurance. Premium costs, rate increases, larger deductibles and co-pays are breaking our clients. The worst is yet to come. When the National Flood Insurance Program must finally demand actuarially sound rates, and the adverse selection of the ACA finally takes its toll, voters will rebel, and government will gladly welcome the chance to further expand its failed involvement in our industry.
See also: Why More Don’t Go Direct-to-Consumer
We can explain all we want. Consumers don’t care. All they want is relief. In my opinion, if we don’t aggressively work to solve the cost problems because we believe nothing can be done, we will lose our industry and agency system as we know it.
Peter Drucker stated this clearly in 1993, when he said, “Customers do not see it as their job to ensure manufacturers a profit.”
Peter Drucker was a very wise man. Video stores, book stores, travel agents, solo practitioner doctors, full service gas stations, etc. were dumb, fat and happy, and now most are gone. The consumers no longer saw their value.
How might consumers spell relief? A – M – A – Z – O – N, or W – A – T – S – O – N or A – I or some other innovation that we can’t even imagine.
America’s agents need to wake up before it’s too late!