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2013 Voluntary Benefits Special Report

Getting smart about health care reform

The American College’s new designation prepares agents to guide their clients through the complexities of reform

By Elisabeth Boone, CPCU

Amid the uncertainties—and even the certainties—that surround the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, both employers and the professionals who advise them about health care benefits find themselves in a head-spinning struggle to understand and implement the law's provisions.

Independent agents, benefits brokers, and others in the field know that they need practical, timely, and reliable information about health care reform and its impact on their clients. They also are eager to learn how to become effective health care planning consultants.

To help insurance professionals acquire the necessary knowledge and skills, The American College in January 2011 launched the first accredited education program in health care reform. Those who complete the six-course curriculum receive the Chartered Healthcare Consultant™ (ChHC™) designation; those who complete the first two courses earn a Certificate in Healthcare Reform Studies.

As the nation's leading provider of life, health, and financial services education, The American College is ideally positioned to deliver comprehensive, high-quality instruction that allows agents, brokers, and consultants to prepare for the challenges of health care reform, says Arthur Tacchino, JD, assistant professor of health insurance.

"The ChHC offering complements our Registered Employee Benefits Consultant™ (REBC™) and Registered Health Underwriter™ (RHU™) designation programs," he says.

As of October 2012, some 70 students had earned the ChHC designation, and about 60 have been awarded the Certificate in Healthcare Reform Studies. Both programs are proving extremely popular among professionals from a variety of backgrounds: independent agents, benefits advisors, human resources specialists, learning and development directors, and state insurance department employees.

"The majority of our students are agents and brokers from all around the country," Tacchino remarks. "At this point most are health insurance brokers, but we're seeing growing interest from property and casualty agents who want to expand their practice by offering employee benefits products and services.

"A large number of state insurance officials take the classes to ensure that they fully understand compliance issues," he notes. "We also have significant participation among HR professionals because they make the benefits decisions for their organizations' employees."

Rich in content

The Chartered Healthcare Consultant program, Tacchino explains, consists of five required courses and one elective. The first two required courses, Essentials of Healthcare Reform and The Healthcare Consultant, are also the ones a student must complete to earn the certificate. Both classes are offered in a 10-week live Webcast format, with proctored exams administered in local testing centers for full college credit.

"We created these two courses specifically to address the provisions of the Affordable Care Act and the impact of the law on the various stakeholders," Tacchino says.

Essentials of Healthcare Reform covers the mandated changes and timelines in the Affordable Care Act; how state exchanges and the "navigator" role will work; grandfathered plans; compliance and review procedures; and the impact of health care reform on other laws: HIPAA, ERISA, and Medicare. Additional topics addressed are programs and incentives offered by the government; medical loss ratios; the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program; the effect of health care reform on FSAs, HSAs, and cafeteria plans; and the impact of reform on health care advisors' business models.

To keep students of the Essentials course current as implementation changes are made to the health care reform law, The College provides them access to 12 months of updates.

The Healthcare Consultant course is designed to prepare students to move their practice to a consulting-based model. The course covers federal and state regulations; the consequences of health care reform for insurers, employers, and individuals; the new role of advisors and consultants in health care, and the health care planning process. The course also explores group and individual health plans and ethical business practices.

The next three courses required for the ChHC designation are Individual Insurance, Group Benefits, and Advanced Topics in Group Benefits. Students then choose one of five electives: Planning for Retirement Needs, Executive Compensation, Compensation and Personnel Management, Advanced Topics in Managed Care, and Health and Long Term Care for Seniors.

Designees must have at least three years of professional experience, adhere to The American College Code of Ethics and Procedures, and comply with the PACE continuing education and recertification program.

Level playing field

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act hail it as an improvement, albeit flawed, over a system that is generally acknowledged to be broken, while detractors fall into two main camps: those who think reform doesn't go far enough, and those who believe it goes way too far. Whatever one's view, the law drives a substantive change in the way health care in the United States is delivered, priced, and administered.

"Because the Affordable Care Act is so comprehensive and represents such a major overhaul of the health care industry, it puts everyone on a level playing field," Tacchino remarks. "You don't need to have been offering health benefits for a decade to know what's going on; health care reform is new ground for almost everybody. If you've been involved in benefits for 10 years or more, you're at an advantage from the standpoint that you've built up a book of business—but you have to learn the new rules just like everyone else. That gives you an opportunity to create a new role for yourself and to distinguish yourself as someone who understands the provisions of the law as well as the decision-making process you'll need to follow in consulting with clients."

Some key provisions of the Affordable Care Act will not be implemented until 2014, Tacchino points out. "In 2014 the exchanges will be open, so people will have a lot more options for obtaining health insurance," he says. "This will also mean a lot more decisions for employers, who will be subject to new tax liabilities. An employer will have to decide whether it will offer the coverage needed to avoid the tax liabilities or send its employee population to the exchanges.

"In our classes, we focus on how to answer that question and how to lead your client through that decision-making process. Making the right decision involves a great deal more in-depth analysis than many people may realize," Tacchino comments. "We teach students how to educate their clients on the issues involved in health care reform and, perhaps even more important, on the steps to take in reaching key decisions."

For more information:

The American College

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