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Association has 100 members in Mississippi

Health underwriters provide education, consumer advocacy

The Mississippi Association of Health Underwriters (MAHU) prides itself on being an advocate for consumers and providing education for members and the public. Started in 1981, it is an affiliate of the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) and has 100 members.

Jackson independent agent Sandra Mobley, who serves as the group’s treasurer, says she joined to keep up with what’s going on in the world of health insurance. “I don’t go to a meeting that I don’t learn two or three things,” she said. “That’s the biggest benefit for me. Plus, I feel that I’m giving something back to the industry by being a member.”

Mobley says 75% of MAHU’s members are independent agents, but the membership includes company representatives. Current president Rick Terry of Jackson works with Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

President-elect Bryan Wampler says there are several associations that underwriters can join, but this one has a focus on healthcare issues that affect the state market.

“We’re looking for things that impact consumers,” he said. “We look at legislation and carefully track it, asking if it will negatively affect our consumers. That’s the main thing we look at.”

For the past five years Wampler has chaired the association’s legislative committee and is serious about that role. “We were looking closely at legislation affecting health savings accounts and predict they will take the state by storm,” he said. “We are pleased that we were able to be a part of that.”

Wampler, an independent agent in Florence, says MAHU is now pushing for long-term care legislation. He feels everyone will win with the establishment of long-term care partnerships that allow the elderly to shield certain amounts of their assets and spend down their insurance policies before going into nursing homes. Currently, federal legislation allows the concept in only four pilot states.

Wampler expects that legislation to be expanded to include all 50 states. He hopes to have the measure placed on the Legislature’s 2006 agenda.

“It’s a tremendous concept,” he said. “It’s reduced Medicaid rolls in all of the pilot states. If it helps reduce Mississippi’s Medicaid rolls even just a little bit, it will be good.”

He and Mobley say the MAHU will take a leading role in educating the Legislature and the public about long-term care. “Education is a primary focus of our organization. We get a lot of questions about many things, and I spend a lot of time on the phone answering them,” Mobley said. “We also provide 12 hours a year of continuing education for agents. If agents are educated, then they’ll educate consumers. We will stay on the cutting edge.”

Both MAHU officers say they spend a lot of time telling people how to get into the state’s risk pool for consumers who can not get insurance due to medical problems. The organization was one of the key players in getting the measure passed and has printed material about the coverage available.

“I feel we have one of the finest risk pools in the country,” Wampler said. “Ours is a model. It has stayed solvent and kept rates reasonable.”

He stresses that all health ideas out there are not good ones and the MAHU must remain vigilant, working in conjunction with the Legislature and state insurance commissioner’s office. “What’s in the best interest of consumers is also in our best interest,” he added.

Asked to name the biggest issue facing the healthcare industry, Mobley, who’s worked in the industry 36 years, quickly answers, “Affordability of coverage.”

Wampler says the country’s best hope is to get consumers back into the fight. “Consumers have been insulated and didn’t know the complete costs,” he said. “Healthcare coverage must become consumer driven.”

Both say their organization will strive to keep the public informed. The NAHU’s Web site (www.nahu.org) is a good source of information too. There consumers can learn about new programs and find help locating agents. As an affiliate chapter, the state organization subscribes to the NAHU’s mission statement which reads: “Serving the public by promoting the activities and ethical conduct of insurance professionals through communication, education and legislative representation.”

The state chapter also adheres to the NAHU code of ethics which outlines a professional standard for dealing with consumers, competition, advertising, clients, the industry and the public in general. In the community, the Mississippi chapter has been involved with the children at the Blair Batson Hospital and Make a Wish Foundation along with supplying items for servicemen in Iraq.

Wampler believes all agents should belong to the organization. “An agent that does not care enough to be a part of an organization that advocates betterment for consumers is there just to take a premium,” he said. “The MAHU has been extremely effective and could be more so with more members. All agents need to be members.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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