WASHINGTON – Steven Spiro,53,of Valley Stream,N.Y.,came to lobby Congress Wednesday with a grave concern on his mind.
He fears that a government-run health coverage plan might eventually force independent agents and brokers like him leave the health insurance system.
Spiro,who is chief executive officer of Spiro Risk Management Inc. and has worked as an agent for 30 years,said the government is going to provide an unlevel playing field for private insurers and agents alike.
“If the government gets involved and operates like every other government always does,eventually it will force some private insurers out of business because they are not going to be affordable anymore,” Spiro said.
Spiro's colleague Lane Rubin,56,chief executive officer of Excel Coverage Group LLC in Westbury, N.Y.,has worked as an agent for 33 years. He said he hopes agents will remain a part of the system,whether or not Congress decides to include a government plan in the new health care legislation.
“As long as the agents are consumers' representatives,we can help them navigate the system and we will continue to be there for them,” Rubin said.
Spiro and Rubin – who both also sell property,life and other types of insurance – were among about a thousand participants of a Capitol Hill fly-in,hosted by the Health Insurance Agent & Broker Alliance.
They said they are disappointed that they were not able to meet any of the members of Congress from their state whose offices they visited. But they were impressed with their staffer members' familiarity with the subject matter.
“Most of the staffers we met already shared our sentiment and totally understood our concerns. But they know that it doesn't matter because their members of Congress want to be consistent with what the administration wants,” Spiro said.
But Spiro and Rubin still hope that Congress will rule out the proposed public health coverage option,and Spiro said a staff member told them the Senate is unlikely to adopt it.
Unlike the New Yorkers,the agents from Kentucky who participated in the fly-in said they met a couple of members of Congress from their state who,for the most part,will vote against a government-run health plan.
David McCay,42,of Bowling Green,Ky.,who has two years of experience as an agent for McCay & Associates Insurance after working as an insurance company customer service representative for 25 years,said the reason most Kentucky members Congress oppose the plan is because of their experience with state health care reforms adopted in 1995.
“The state government plan failed because both insurance companies and health care providers were heavily taxed,” McCay said. “After that legislation was imposed,many insurance companies went out,hence the insurance cost and the premiums were actually higher than before the legislation was enacted.”
Insurance companies' associations share the agents' and brokers' concerns. They have also done their share of lobbying.
America's Health Insurance Plans,which represents nearly 1,300 insurance companies,sent a letter to the House of Representatives last week outlining their concerns.
Robert Zirkelbach,the association's director of strategic communications,said in an interview that a government-run plan is not likely to be sustainable in the long run.
He said a government-run insurance plan that pays like Medicare will adopt artificially low payment rates “because it will underpay providers.” That will cause many employers to drop coverage and force their employees into the new government-run plan.
If most of the population chooses a government plan,Zirkelbach said,”There are going to be fewer and fewer people in private coverage to offset those underpayments.”
President Barrack Obama said in his weekly address Saturday that the new health care bill is going to regulate the health care system,lower the skyrocketing coverage costs and increase consumers' choice.
“I don't believe that government can or should run health care. But,I also don't think insurance companies should have free reign to do as they please,” Obama said.
He said his plan will include a “public option” among a variety of plans. He also wants consumers to be able to compare plans and choose the best for them.
Spiro,who learned the ropes from his father and grandfather who were also insurance agents,said he enjoys helping consumers navigate through the maze of choices of different insurance plans. He said agents' services will not be replaced by government customer service representatives who would not be able to walk consumers through those choices. “If the agents are eliminated from the process,the consumer is going to get lost in the whole shuffle,” he said.