As lawmakers hash out the details, they must be careful not to make the system more complex and less responsive. Unfortunately, proposals to limit the role insurance agents play in the health-care marketplace and to create a government-run insurance plan would do just that.
Professional insurance agents provide critical services to employers, workers and families. By balancing consumers' immediate and longer-term needs, agents can provide expert advice to help their customers identify and secure plans that are right for them.
Agents have also led the way in implementing cutting-edge health promotion and wellness programs for employers. These initiatives are key to combating rising health costs.
A recent U.S. Senate hearing revealed that 1-800-MEDICARE was plagued by confusing voice menus, hour-long wait times, frequent disconnections, inaccurate information and inappropriate referrals.
The American people deserve better. They also deserve better than to have health reform derailed by hyper-partisan insistence on a new government-run insurance plan.
Proponents of a public plan claim that it would play by the same rules as private plans. But it's impossible to create a level playing field between a government-run public plan and the private insurance market. After all, a government-run plan won't have to pay state premium taxes and adhere to the same solvency and oversight standards as private plans. And it's unlikely that the government would allow its plan to be sued or to fail.
It would be wiser to fix the shortcomings of private coverage markets. There's already bipartisan consensus on many crucial reforms. Under the proper framework, private insurance plans have proven able to provide diverse populations and areas with high-quality service at low cost. For evidence, look no further than the privately administered Medicare drug benefit, which has earned high praise from its beneficiaries even as it has cost far less than anticipated.
We all have a stake in getting health reform right. And getting it right requires preserving Americans' choice of doctors, health plans and benefit specialists, lowering costs and improving the quality of care.
Such a reform agenda puts the needs of the American people first.
This op-ed was written by Ken Crerar, president of The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers; Robert Rusbuldt, CEO of Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America; Janet Trautwein, CEO of the National Association of Health Underwriters; Kenneth Bessette, president of the Professional Insurance Agents, and John Healy, CEO of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors.