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Q&A with Julian Lago of FAHU.

Along with heading up the financial services and employee benefit department of the long-standing Plastridge Insurance Agency in Southeast Florida, Julian Lago is current president of the Florida Association of Health Underwriters (FAHU). Plastridge, a full-service, independent agency founded in 1919, primarily serves Broward, Palm Beach and Martin counties, where it maintains five offices.

As the health-care reform debate rages in the hall of Congress and beyond, and the economy continues to struggle, we spoke with Lago about those issues and others affecting FAHU members and society at large.

Q. FAHU members must feel especially challenged to live out the group's mission "to protect the consumer's future," given today's ever-rising costs in all aspects of health care, health insurance, and related products and services. There is the added challenge of deep drops in clients' retirement plans and annuities, people cashing in policies to survive, and the fear and uncertainty that continues to hover over all. What strategies have helped in these trying times?

A. We certainly live in very challenging times. Change appears to be inevitable and most insurance professionals agree that we cannot continue with the status quo. I believe, however, that with change comes great opportunity, and that providing and educating Florida's consumers on the best selection of health care is still one of the most fulfilling careers.

Q. With an estimated 250,000 uninsured in your county (Palm Beach), you know first-hand the need for health-care reform. As this was written, the U.S. House and Senate had not produced a conference bill to send to the President. How do you and your agents break down the complex dilemma the country is in for prospective clients? Is education an even bigger part of your role today, and how do you help clients sort out the misinformation?

A. Education and staying up-to-date on the health-care debate is critical. Our members have the advantage of a strong legislative team that has been working with members of Congress on health reform from its inception. This helps us stay in tune with drafting and amendments, and ultimately what we believe will be the necessary reforms, without compromising choice and quality of care.

Q. Update us on a few of the most contested bills in the state's recent legislative session that impact your segment of the industry, and the consequences if they did pass or did not. Some examples: the Small Group Underwriting rule challenge; taxing agents' commissions; the direct pay to out-of-network providers that was predicted to "devastate managed care networks."

A. This past session we worked to limit some proposed legislation that we as an association felt would further increase the cost of insurance by adding additional mandates in Florida coverage. One provision that did pass was the direct-pay PPO option. To date, we have not seen a significant rate modification due to this provision. Each year FAHU members, along with our legislative team, meet with our state representatives in Tallahassee with the goal of ensuring that Florida continues to have a vibrant and affordable health-care system.

Q. The Steven A. Geller Autism Coverage Act, mandating well-defined screening, intervention, and treatment of autism spectrum disorder went into effect in April. What are you hearing around the state about its implementation?

A. Florida continues to lead the country with one of the largest number of healthcare mandates (currently over 52). It is difficult sometimes to lobby against a specific area of coverage. Our issue, however, is not whether a carrier should cover a specific condition, but rather that the state needs to understand--as we continue to expand the mandates--that we will inevitably be driving the cost of health-care coverage in the wrong direction. FAHU has supported, and will continue to push state legislators, to do a comprehensive analysis of the state mandates so that health care can be impacted positively and made more affordable. It is currently too early to determine the actuarial impact that the new autism mandate will make, but we will continue to monitor its effects on our health-care premiums.

Q. As president of FAHU, what aspirations do you have for the association and its local chapters?

A. During our strategic planning session, our board laid out three key goals for this year. The first was to increase membership. We feel that professionalism, education, and a strong code of ethics are critical to all agents throughout Florida, and hope to attract more agents to our membership. Second, we want to have a strong return on investment for our members in the form of legislative, educational, and professional development. Finally, branding of FAHU is key. Our organization has a wealth of resources and knowledgeable individuals who are a tremendous resource to the communities they serve. We want FAHU members to be seen by our state legislators, the public, and the media as true professional stakeholders in health insurance and employee benefits.

Q. With the growing complexity in all aspects of insurance, what do you see as critical, specific aspects of professional education that can help your agents going forward?

A. Consumer-directed plans such as Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Accounts have become an intricate part of most proposals. Although not everyone has embraced these options fully, it is important that agents be well-versed in the funding and structure of these plans.

Over the past several years, FAHU has hosted an educational symposium that has provided its members with many of their required continuing education and legislative updates. In addition, we have a large number of exhibitors who showcase their newest products and technological tools to serve our clients. This single event provides FAHU members with an opportunity to stay at the top of their game and be the most professional and educated agents in Florida. This coming year's event will be at the Gaylord in Orlando in May.

Q. How vital to success do you see membership in a professional association in this economic environment? What aspects of membership take on greater value in these times, especially when money may be tight and the cost of attending meetings, conventions, and the like may be rationalized away as "extras?"

A. As with all businesses, monitoring your expenses is key, and our members more than ever see a true return on investment for their membership dollars. FAHU provides important educational and legislative updates, as well as purchasing powers that are key to a successful insurance practice.
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Title Annotation:FEATURE STORY
Author:Moorhead, Sharon K.
Publication:Florida Underwriter
Article Type:Interview
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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