Home » MBJ FEATURE » So you say you want to be an insurance agent?

So you say you want to be an insurance agent?

By Tim Turner – contributor

The nation’s healthcare reform will swell Mississippi’s insurance rolls in the coming years. Right now, there are 14,115 licensed insurance producers — they don’t call them agents anymore — in the state. And they are going to need some help accommodating the newly insured if folks are willing to go through the process of obtaining a license.

The numbers suggest there are enough folks that will. Despite the state losing 25 percent of producers annually, another 30 percent goes into the business for a net gain of 5 percent. The procedure to get a license is pretty straightforward, and for the highly motivated, can be completed in less than two weeks.

Here are some things to consider about Mississippi, insurance coverage and the state’s general health.  It is estimated that around 20 percent of Mississippians are uninsured. As it is, the majority of healthcare services are near the state’s most-populous areas — Jackson, the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the metropolitan Memphis, Tenn., suburbs. With a need for more doctors being spread to other areas, there will likely be an attendant need for insurers for the newly insured in those areas.

Also consider the state’s mortality rates, which is significantly higher than the national average (with national rankings of first in cardiovascular disease, fifth in cancer, and ninth in cerebrovascular disease deaths according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Those numbers will likely drop through a combination of preventative measures and lifestyle changes, along with better healthcare afforded because of their insurance coverage.

Certainly anyone buying insurance can do it as easily as they would buy an iTune or purchase an airline ticket. But that won’t totally eliminate the need for producers.

“I think agents will be more important to people,” said Aaron Sisk, assistant staff attorney at the Mississippi Insurance Department. “They will be needed to help customers figure out cost, what is in a policy, the deductibles. They will be needed to provide customer service for the individuals.”

The steps to becoming a producer are fairly basic. When deciding to go for a license you do so with the understanding that it will require earning 20 hours of pre-licensing education per line of authority, or type of insurance you want to sell. There are six major lines: Life, Accident and Health, Property, Casualty, Personal Lines and Variable Life and Variable Annuity.

Now comes the insurance examination. You can complete the application in person or online — as 95 percent of the people in the state do. It cost $85 to pre-register for the examination. The company the state uses is an independent contractor, Testing Services Inc. out of Ridgeland. The examination is administered weekly in Jackson, and once a month on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Meridian and Grenada areas.

Then you have to successfully pass the test. The state pass ratio for taking it the first time is 55 percent, which is the national average.

Next comes the application for your license, which is usually processed by the state in about two days. Once that is done, the prospective producer has to try to get an appointment from a company to sell insurance for them. After that is done, then they can start selling insurance in Mississippi.

“The process is that simple and can be as long or as short as you want it to be,” said Bobby Perkins of the Mississippi Insurance Department. “Someone can go on a fast track and get a license.

“The test is administered Monday through Friday. If you pass, you apply for the license on Monday. Then it takes one to two business days to get the license processed. If it is a clean application (no negative answers), you get your license.”

And you could not have gotten that far if you hadn’t met the minimum requirement to sell insurance. There is no basic education requirement, but you have to be at least 18 years of age. Among the other requirements are that you cannot have a license that has been suspended or revoked in Mississippi, or one that has been in any other state. An applicant won’t be considered if they’ve been cited for insurance fraud, failed to comply with a court order to pay child support or failed to pay state income tax among other requirements.

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