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Agent Sales News

When “good job” isn’t good enough: 6 tips to giving effective compliments

There’s nothing like a sincere compliment to brighten someone’s day. It can be part of any interaction that involves people—whether they’re clients, prospects, peers, direct reports, contractors who clean your office at night, or even family members or friends.

But compliments can backfire, delivering the wrong message to the very person you’re trying to be nice to. To make sure your compliments do as you intend—especially with people you work with—keep these tips in mind:

  • Say why: In a work environment, giving a reason for an accolade tells the recipient exactly what behavior you want to see more of, and it makes the interaction genuine. “I like how you fielded that difficult question during your presentation” means a lot more than “Good job.”
  • Leave yourself out of it: You may or may not get a compliment back, but that’s not a good reason to praise someone. Fishing for a return compliment comes off as insincere, because it is.
  • Be specific and personal: Compliments are best when they’re tailored to the recipient. When you’re specific, you’re signaling that you mean it. Generic ones sound and feel inauthentic and insincere.
  • Timing is everything: Like any other reward, a behavioral compliment works best when it closely follows the action it relates to. During meetings, compliments can often do double-duty because it feels good to be praised in front of others. Sometimes, it makes sense to wait for a private moment, especially if the recipient is shy or sensitive. Either way, it’s best not to wait any longer than good judgment dictates.
  • Engage with the recipient: In some situations, it’s smart to lead with a question. Like “What’s your view on how the meeting went?” By opening a dialog, you can get the other person’s perspective, and you’re less likely to seem patronizing.
  • Keep it positive: There’s no room for “but” in a compliment. It’s best to avoid comparisons with other people (“Now you’re performing almost as well as Joe.”) or with previous behavior you want the recipient to change (“You’ve almost mastered that skill.”). If you’re complimenting someone on an improvement, let it go at that (“You’re really improved your delivery.”).

You can deliver a compliment for strategic reasons, like beefing up a fellow agent’s self-confidence. Or breaking the ice with a prospect. Or for no reason at all, just because.

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7 reasons to move to the cloud

If you store all your agency’s programming and data on servers in your office building, you’ve probably been urged to consider cloud-based computing. Just in case you’re unfamiliar, the term “cloud” is a romantic-sounding misnomer.

The cloud is really a huge land-based data storage facility that houses massive computers in a secure, weather-proof (often bomb-proof), climate-controlled environment. Something to think about next time there’s a severe weather alert where your agency’s office-base computer hardware is located.

When first developed, cloud-based computing had its issues. Understandably, businesses took time to get comfortable with the concept.

Today, the cloud is seen as a safe, smart alternative to on-site storage. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Security: The latest security technologies and updates are installed in remote servers, giving cloud storage an edge when it comes to protecting sensitive data against damage and misuse.
  • Simplicity and convenience: Cloud-based computing is easy to adapt to, access and use. You can migrate your agency’s files easily. It’s always on, always available, from any computer—including smartphones and tablets.
  • Productivity: Having your employees work through the cloud means they can get more done. For every business challenge there’s already a cloud-based way to solve it.
  • Affordability: With cloud-based systems, you don’t have to own—or maintain—a mainframe, server or other expensive hardware. You don’t have to budget for new equipment that’s bigger and better. You pay only for the services you use.
  • Updates: Cloud-based servers always run on the latest versions of the systems you depend on. And most programs, like Microsoft’s Office Suite, are available by subscription. It’s less expensive than buying and installing new versions.
  • Scale: You can add or remove services as needed, so your agency can stay nimble. If you take on a large new client, you can beef up your capacity quickly and easily. Or pare it back.  
  • You’re already using it: Email and internet systems already use cloud-based technology.

So don’t let decades-old arguments hold you back. The cloud just might be the best place for your business.

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Help for your email marketing

As email moves to a central point on the marketing stage, agencies are learning it’s a medium that requires hands-on management. To get the most flexibility—and resulting benefits—from your email marketing efforts, you might want to consider investing in one of several third-party services that specialize in cutting the grunt work down to size.

A successful and fully integrated ongoing email marketing effort includes components that help you:

  • develop and maintain a list of recipients (existing clients and prospects)
  • create a stream of messages that can be customized for recipients
  • deliver your messages to the desired inboxes
  • capture and process responses from recipients
  • analyze results
  • comply with any regulations and legal restrictions that might apply

Several email processing services will help you with these tasks such as (in alphabetical order) AWeber, Constant Contact, MailChimp and VerticalResponse.

Deciding on a service takes a little planning, and it’s smart to learn what’s possible, feasible and relevant to your agency so you can choose wisely. Most services offer a free trial period, but you’re better off making a well-researched decision you’ll stick with.

A few variables to consider:

  • How are charges calculated? Typically a service will charge on a per-email or a per-contact basis. Do the math as it relates to your own lists, plans and goals. Will you be mailing often to a relatively small group of contacts? Or only occasionally to a huge group? Be aware that some services that charge by the contact may require all your recipients to opt in. While this reduces your cost it also reduces your audience considerably—especially if you’ve already asked existing contacts to opt in.
  • How easily can you import and use your lists? Chances are, you already have detailed information on your existing clients—and hopefully prospects you have your eye on. Check to see if a service can import these lists easily. Also see how easily you can add to your lists with new contacts and how many contact details the service lets you capture. More detailed contact info lets you segment your emails, so you can fine-tune the targeting of your messages.
  • How thoroughly can you analyze and track results? Because it’s data-driven, email marketing is inherently useful for figuring out what you’re doing right and wrong. Some data to consider: how often emails come back as undeliverable, how many get opened, how often recipients actually click on the links you include. Some services give you industry benchmarks so you can compare your performance to your peer group.
  • What extra features do you want or need? Before selecting a service, it’s a good idea to understand what the advanced version can do. That helps you decide which features are relevant to your needs now, which ones you may need as your agency grows, and which ones you have no use for. Get familiar with capabilities like image hosting (so you don’t have to send the same multi-megabyte images to every recipient); surveys (great for engaging readers and capturing useful feedback); RSS feed compatibility (so your email can easily find its way into a recipient’s feed); and A/B tests (so you can see which alternative variations perform better statistically). 

Like any other business investment, the more you learn upfront about email marketing services, the faster your investment will pay off.

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Better You from Blue wellness newsletter for groups

Better You from Blue, Florida Blue’s comprehensive wellness program targeting mid-size and larger groups, is an important asset that can help agents attract new clients and retain existing ones. Groups who participate in the Better You from Blue program can take advantage of this wellness update that is filled with informative features to encourage healthy behavioral changes.

A wellness update is emailed monthly by regional health educators to their groups, as well as distribution via the Better You from Blue and Florida Blue sales team. Each edition is filled with lively, informative content on seasonal health-related topics, including recipes, success stories and tips for healthy living. Check out the July issue.

Better You from Blue demonstrates Florida Blue’s commitment to helping employers make an impact in their overall health care costs by engaging employees in wellness programs that promote healthy lifestyles.

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Wellness seminars start

Beginning this month, a free five-week wellness seminar will kick-off at several Florida Blue Center locations around the state.

Sessions are focused on:

  • Discovering one’s fitness personality
  • Understanding the pros and cons of certain physical activities
  • Creating unique exercise programs that one can use for a lifetime

The seminar is a one-hour session every Thursday at 10 a.m., and will be hosted in Pensacola, Sarasota, Tampa, Winter Haven and Winter Park retail centers.

These are open to members and non-members, ages 18 and older. Florida Blue members are encouraged to bring a family member or a friend, but advanced registration is required online or by calling 1-877-352-5830. 

Agents can find samples of member and small group mailings and email in agent bulletin A15-111.

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Employers procrastinate on ACA record requirements

Starting Jan. 1, 2015, an ACA rule started requiring employers to track health care coverage for their employees and their dependents. The information must be filed in 2016.

Yet recent research from Price Waterhouse Coopers and Equifax suggests only one tenth of employers have taken steps to comply with the requirement. Noncompliance could result in penalties and excise taxes, according to the report, which surveyed almost 500 employers across 36 different industries.

Most of the companies that haven’t implemented solutions have at least started on a path toward compliance. But 16 percent haven’t even thought about it—or might be unaware of the complexities involved.

Part of the problem stems from the challenges of integrating data from various sources, according to the report. To comply with the ACA requirements, companies may have to pull information from separate platforms used in their own human resources, payroll, benefits and other internal departments—not to mention third-party vendors. Getting that information into a uniform format can be a painstaking and costly process.

Other issues that keep employer compliance officers up at night include:

  • Penalties for failing to file form 1094 or 1095 on time
  • Responding promptly when an employee requests a tax subsidy to offset insurance purchased through a health insurance exchange
  • Selecting among various reporting options delineated under the ACA requirement
  • Navigating exchanges in various states if the employer has operations in more than one state
  • Quality of data integrated from multiple sources
  • Choosing among a wide range of ACA compliance and payroll vendors

If the report offers one key insight, it’s for the employers that haven’t started working on a solution. The message: Start now.


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Florida Blue Foundation community giving highlights

The Florida Blue Foundation serves as a cornerstone in the company’s mission. By providing needed funding to communities and nonprofits throughout the state, Florida Blue underscores its commitment to the wellbeing of all Floridians and creates positive associations for the brand and the products it offers.

In the first quarter of 2015 alone, the Foundation reported 157 separate gifts to support projects that enrich communities in every corner of the state. Details on the Foundation’s giving in each region are available to you through your Florida Blue team. Information on the Foundation is also available to the public.

The program generates favorable local media coverage, which creates positive impressions among members as well as corporate and individual prospects. As an example, the Foundation recently gave the Cultural Council of Jacksonville a charitable gift to benefit the 2016 SPARK Grant Program, which seeks to ignite and invigorate downtown Jacksonville through a balanced mix of cultural activities and temporary visual arts projects.

The gift was featured in Folio Weekly, which describes how the Foundation’s Florida Blue Flame program helps make it possible to build healthy and strong communities with programs geared toward engaging children, teens, families, and/or seniors; enhancing healthy, active lifestyles; and emphasizing quality of life through arts and culture.

As the Foundation continues its work, agents should stay aware of the impact of community giving activities. It’s good information that can play an important supporting role.

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3 ACA compliance issues with IRS

If you think your clients are the only ones having trouble understanding and complying with ACA requirements, think again. The IRS itself is still struggling to implement some of the law’s requirements.

A recent report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA, an IRS oversight agency within the federal government) highlights some of the concerns that relate specifically to one of the ACA’s most controversial provisions: the individual mandate to purchase insurance—and the methods used to calculate penalties for failing to comply with it.

The law stipulates Minimal Essential Coverage (MEC) guidelines, defining what coverage a plan must include, and refers to the penalty for noncompliance with the individual mandate as “shared responsibility.” In broad terms, the Shared Responsibility Penalty for failing to have MEC throughout 2015 is 2 percent of income, with a minimum of $325 for individuals. Among the IRS challenges identified by TIGTA:

  • No process for identifying taxpayers who gave wrong information about their coverage last year. As a result, IRS can’t reliably detect people who claimed incorrectly that they had coverage.
  • Incomplete access to the formula for calculating the Shared Responsibility Penalty. A formula was supplied to tax preparers and IRS examiners. But individuals filing paper returns have inadequate guidance on how to figure the penalty.
  • Inability to verify taxpayer claims of exemption from the penalty. The law spells out situations in which taxpayers can claim exemption from paying the penalty. In more than 350,000 cases, an exemption was claimed and the IRS is unable to verify its validity.

As these and other kinks get worked out, it’s important to stay informed on developments.

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Selling higher priced plans

As with any service, the price of a health insurance policy is a major factor when you’re sitting across from a client or prospect. Clients often get stuck on the monthly premium and have trouble discerning the real value of a plan. As a result, many clients wind up with plans that are sub-optimal for their needs while many agents wind up settling for sub-optimal sales and commissions.

Sales experts have much to say on the topic of selling in various price ranges. It requires some technique, but it can result in a win-win. Among the experts’ recommended strategies for selling at higher price points:

  • Don’t lead with a low price: If the best you can say about a plan is its lower price, the client will know there’s little else to recommend it. Besides, clients who are over-focused on getting low pricing will usually demand even deeper discounts.
  • Higher price commands more attention: It tells the client your proposal is significant and should be taken seriously.
  • Seize the opportunity: If you propose a plan that’s priced higher than a competitor’s plan, it gives you a chance to differentiate your company and detail its unique selling points.
  • Wiggle room: Leading with a higher price leaves you room to agree to a reduction if the client needs a concession.
  • Happy surprise: The client may accept your higher pricing proposal without questioning it. Though it doesn’t happen often, stranger things have happened.

Justifying a higher price may take some effort, but you didn’t go into sales expecting it to be easy. But the takeaway is simple: Lead high, always, and employ your negotiating skills to improve your numbers.


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Florida Blue’s summer eNews for members

The latest issue of Florida Blue eNews for individuals under 65 and group members is packed with fun activities for summer, health tips and information members can use.

At home or at the beach, members can now read the new mobile-friendly newsletter on their smartphone or tablet.

They can also learn the benefits of cooking with family and how to make the most of volunteering.

Members were emailed this earlier in June, as shared with you in agent bulletin A15-116.



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Paid enrollment stats show Marketplaces are working

In March, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published a snapshot of Federally-facilitated Marketplace (FFM) and state-based marketplace (SBM) enrollment totals, which includes paid (effectuated) enrollments. It includes a breakdown by state, financial assistance, and metal level (SHOP not included).  

Here are some of the highlights:

  • 10.2 million consumers have coverage and have paid premiums as of March 31
  • 7.5 million enrolled through HealthCare.gov; 2.7 million enrolled through the remaining SBMs
  • 85% of enrollees were receiving advanced premium tax credits, at an average of $272 per month; 57% were receiving cost-sharing reductions

Florida-specific stats include:

  • 1,415,981 total enrollees
  • 1,324,516 (93.5%) received advanced premium tax credits (second highest percentage in U.S.), with average credit of $294/month.
  • 998,137 (70.5%) received cost-share reductions through silver plans
    • Enrollment by plan type: catastrophic 0.33%; bronze 15.44%; silver 76.32%; gold 3.42%; platinum 4.48%.

Other states with the highest rate of consumers who received advanced premium tax credits were: Mississippi (94.5%), North Carolina (93.2%), Wyoming (92.9%), Louisiana (92.0%), Arkansas (91.1%), and Georgia (91.1%).

“The Health Insurance Marketplaces are working,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans now rely on the health and financial security that comes from affordable coverage through the Marketplaces. We’ve seen a historic reduction in the uninsured and consumers are finding the coverage they need at a price they can afford.”

The Marketplace effectuated enrollment snapshot provides point-in-time estimates. CMS expects enrollment numbers will change over time when consumers find other coverage or experience changes in life circumstances such as employment status or marriage, which may cause consumers to change, newly enroll in, or cancel their plans. The organization plans to release Marketplace state-by-state effectuated enrollment snapshots on a quarterly basis.

Read the full press release here.

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Florida Blue rated superior by A.M. Best 2015

Recognized for strong market share due in part to recent membership, brand recognition, retail strategy and diversified product line, A.M. Best ranked Florida Blue and its affiliates (Health Options, Inc., Capital Health Plan, Inc., and Florida Health Care Plan) with a financial strength rating of A+ (superior).  The outlook for all ratings is stable.

Florida Blue and its affiliates were also cited as innovative providers for contracting and enhancing medical management.

Ratings reflect the trend of profitable earnings, as a result of pricing discipline and a controlled administrative expense structure.

A.M. Best's Financial Strength Rating (FSR) is recognized worldwide as the benchmark for assessing and comparing insurers' financial strength. It is based on a comprehensive quantitative and qualitative evaluation of a company's balance sheet strength, operating performance and business profile.

For the latest rating, access www.ambest.com.

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Emergency room visits still rising under ACA

Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) seeks to reduce emergency room visits for non-emergency care, a recent survey by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) says the initial numbers are going in the opposite direction. About 75 percent of the survey’s 2,000 ER physician respondents reported a significant increase in visits in the last year. Only 3 percent reported a decrease.

One possible reason for the surprising uptick, according to the report is a shortage primary care physicians to handle the influx of newly insured patients who signed up under the ACA. One ER physician speculated that some of those newly insured patients, if they were unable to find a local primary care physician, could have turned to their local ERs because they had nowhere else to go for medical care.

Against this backdrop, GuideWell Health, a wholly-owned subsidiary of GuideWell Mutual Holding Corporation, is doing its part of move the needle in the right direction. The Florida Blue sister company recently opened a stand-alone urgent care facility in Winter Park. Under the name GuideWell Emergency Doctors, the 7,500-square-foot clinic is staffed by board-certified emergency medicine physicians and offers the clinical capabilities to treat major medical conditions as well as minor urgent care needs, and has on-site diagnostic equipment.

The walk-in clinic is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday - Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends and holidays.

For more details on GuideWell Emergency Doctors, Agent Bulletin #A14-383 is available electronically at our website.

Wall Street Journal
USA Today

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Consumers taking control in health care

Many health insurance companies and medical providers are encouraging consumers to take more control over their health care. A new study from Pfizer, Ipsos and the National Council on Patient Information and Education suggests that message is getting through.

Researchers found that about 80 percent of respondents perceive that they’re expected to become actively engaged in making health improvements. And that’s a good thing: an even higher portion, 92 percent, said they would like to have greater control of their health.

There’s very little confusion among respondents about what they need to do to maintain good health: 95 percent know that exercise and diet are major factors. Respondents were overwhelmingly able to identify other important factors, too: Checkups, screenings, preventive care, doctor consultations all scored above 80 percent.

The survey also highlights other indications that consumers are thinking more proactively about their own health:

  • About two thirds of respondents are taking more responsibility—including doing their own research about issues and symptoms, tracking their own vital signs and taking non-prescription meds when needed.
  • Nearly 90 percent feel confident in their ability to take charge of their health, and most know where to seek health-related information when needed.
  • Many ask a pharmacist, physician or other health professional when selecting non-prescription products.

The study is based on survey responses from more than 2,000 U.S. adults.

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Uninsured rate hits new low of 11.9 percent

A long-term tracking study shows that the rate of uninsured Americans stands at 11.9 percent for the first quarter of 2015. That’s the lowest point ever recorded since 2008, when the Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index started tracking the number of people without health insurance.

The most recent measure marks a sharp drop from the third quarter of 2013, when the uninsured rate stood at 18 percent. The Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate took effect in January 2014, and is responsible for much—but not all—of the steep decline. The improving economy and a drop in unemployment were also seen as significant factors.

The decline was most notable among low-income Americans (those making less than $36,000 per year) and Hispanics, which dropped 8.7 and 8.3 points respectively since the end of 2013. These were identified as the two key demographics most likely to lack health insurance before the ACA took effect.

Additional groups experiencing sharp drops in the uninsured rate include Millenials (those age 26 to 34, down 7.4 points) and African Americans (down 7.3 points) since the end of 2013.

Other trends noted in the report include:

  • Among adults under 65, the uninsured rate declined from 20.8 percent at the end of 2013 to 14.5% in the first quarter of 2015. This decline largely reflects a rise in the number of individuals purchasing their own coverage.
  • More than one fifth (21.1 percent) of adults under 65 said they are covered by a self-funded plan; this number reflects a rise of 3.5 points since the fourth quarter of 2013.
  • Nine percent of adults under 65 are on Medicaid, a slight increase since the individual mandate became effective in January 2014.

The report is based on phone interviews with 43,575 U.S. adults age 18 and older, conducted between Jan. 2 and Mar. 31, 2015.





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Understanding the multicultural growth in Florida

Whether you’ve lived here all your life or just moved here, one of the first things people notice about Florida is that our population includes people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. Demographers (the people who study population trends) predict the state will continue to experience significant multicultural growth in the years ahead.

Because Florida Blue serves the whole state, that fact alone has a direct impact on the company’s future. Consider a few key factoids about the multicultural market:

  • The two biggest segments of the multicultural market, Hispanics and African Americans, already comprise 40 percent of the state’s population. This number will increase to 43 percent in the next four years.
  • Florida’s Hispanic population alone is expected to grow by more than 10 percent over the next five years. As the size of an average Hispanic household grows, the overall Hispanic population will continue increasing exponentially.
  • From an income perspective, 29 percent of Hispanics and 30 percent of African Americans earn between $25,000 and $40,000 per year—slightly higher than the state average in this income segment. These two population segments also make up a higher portion of the population that’s eligible for Medicaid and the health care exchange.
  • The number of young Hispanic adults is expected to grow especially fast. Florida Hispanics age 19 to 34 (Gen Y) will increase by 22 percent between 2014 and 2019. Hispanics under age 20 (Gen Z) will grow more than twice as quickly: by 50 percent for the same period.
  • For young African American Floridians, growth will be slower: African Americans age 19 to 34 will grow by just two percent. For African Americans under age 20, growth will be 36 percent.
  • Florida’s Hispanic baby boomer population (born between 1946 and 1964) will grow just one percent over the next five years. The African American baby boomer population will actually decrease by 12 percent in the same period.
  • For comparison, national projections show the 19-to-34 age group growing at six percent between 2014 and 2019; the under-20 population growing at 35 percent; and the Baby Boomer population decreasing by two percent.

A comprehensive plan for reaching the multicultural market is an important component of Florida Blue’s overall customer experience strategy. It’s important to understand these trends so you can engage in culturally relevant ways with members, prospects and the communities where Florida residents live.



Source for Population Graph:  Geoscape, IMI Analysis of Census Data

Sources for income stats: Geoscape, IMI Analysis of Census Data

Sources for generational stats: Geoscape, IMI Analysis of Census Data


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Make your blog work harder for your agency

For many companies, a blog is one important component in a comprehensive online marketing strategy. A blog (short for “web log”) is an ongoing series of content entries that lets you share your expertise with regular readers. It burnishes your credibility and creates an audience consisting of likely prospects and existing clients.

A blog is inexpensive to create and maintain. More than three quarters of companies that use blogs report it’s worth the investment. If you’re considering establishing a blog for your agency (or the one you already publish is getting stale) try these strategies for optimizing results.

  • Clarify what you want the blog to do. Like websites, blogs exist for different reasons. Do you want to build traffic to your website? Get others to link to you? Make prospects aware of your agency? Nail down your objectives first, so you can make every entry focused on the result you want to achieve.
  • Establish what you want to include. Will it be mostly the musings of an industry guru? A lot of short takes from trusted sources? Will it be all words? Will it have lots of graphics? Decide in advance, so you can work toward an objective standard.
  • Remember whom you’re talking to. Reverse-engineer what your ideal audience wants to see, then create blog entries that are relevant. If you’re targeting prospects, provide industry knowledge that positions you as the expert. Avoid fluff pieces like employee updates that would work better in an intra-company newsletter.
  • Create a calendar. To build a loyal following, follow a predictable timetable—so people can look forward to fresh content. Having a schedule in the back of your mind also helps discipline your mind to be looking out for new topics. It can also add to your coveted Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ranking, which helps determine how close to the top your blog appears when others search for agencies like yours.
  • Make it readable. Your blog should be written in a way that makes people enjoy reading it. Use active verbs and let a human voice come through. Avoid corporate-speak.
  • Delegate if necessary. If you’re running a high-performing agency, you might cringe at the thought of adding such a major responsibility. Assign it to a key member of your staff—and be sure to include that person’s byline. Or hire a freelancer to do the writing based on your input.
  • Make your blog self-promotional. Spice things up with some creative strategies. Invite a key prospect to write a guest column. Cross-promote your blog on your Facebook page, on your website and in other social media.
  • Always say what you want. This is basic marketing and sales. Always state clearly what you want your reader to do—which in most cases boils down to “call us” or “ask me about…” No matter how informative and well written your blog is, it will perform better with a clear, consistent call to action. Without it, you’re leaving money on the table.

Follow these strategies as needed, and you’ll see a steady rise in readership—and results for your agency.

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A decade of giving: Sapphire Awards for 2015

The Florida Blue Foundation supports the communities where we do business in a variety of ways. One of the most visible of these recently celebrated a milestone anniversary: The 10th Annual Sapphire Awards were announced at a luncheon in Weston, Florida, on April 25.

Information about the Florida Blue Foundation’s community support has helped win over sales and renewals in those communities, and agents are encouraged to share details with prospects and clients. The Sapphire Awards honor outstanding individuals, programs and nonprofit organizations in community health care, or health care-related fields, whose work is distinguished by leadership, innovation and achievements in community health.

The awards ceremony concluded a two-day symposium at which attendees heard from national and state speakers on a range of topics related to health care. For 2015, five awards, totaling $325,000, went to the following health care organizations, programs and individuals:

  • Organization Category: Florida Department of Health in Indian River County, Vero Beach ($100,000) and The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Miami-Dade ($50,000).
  • Program Category: Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Program, Farmworker Association of Florida, Apopka ($100,000).
  • Individual Category: Margarita Romo, Founder and Executive Director, Farmworkers Self-Help, Dade City ($50,000) and Moody Chisholm, M.B.A., former president and CEO, St. Vincent’s HealthCare, Jacksonville ($25,000).

To select this year’s winners, an independent panel of experts, with expertise in community health best practices, chose from 164 nominees.

Since 2005, the Foundation has presented 60 Sapphire Awards, totaling more than $3.4 million, to nine individuals and 51 programs and organizations across Florida.

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Florida Blue receives brand excellence award

With a big assist from insurance agents across the state, Florida Blue earned a Brand Excellence Award from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). The annual awards, announced on April 21, honor Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies that excel in developing and enhancing the overall BCBS brand image.

This award, recognizing Florida Blue’s achievements in the area of member retention, marks the company’s third Brand Excellence honor. Ninety three percent of members renewed their coverage over the past year. In 2014, Florida Blue saw a net gain of more than half a million members, bringing total membership to approximately 4.3 million.

The recognition showcases the loyalty of existing members. And you, our valued sales partners, played a key role in helping Florida Blue perform at such a high level.

“Nearly 105 million Americans trust the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Brands with providing reliable, high-quality health care coverage to them and their families,” said Scott P. Serota, BCBSA president and CEO. “We are proud to recognize those BCBS companies that have exceeded member expectations and delivered exceptional service to the communities they serve.”

This marks the 20th year that BCBSA has presented Brand Excellence Awards. In addition to member retention, other categories include attracting new customers, fostering loyalty among existing customers and brand innovation.


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Employer strategies for keeping benefit costs in line

According to a recent survey, companies are taking a variety of approaches to meet the challenges of managing benefit costs. The research, titled “Trends in employee benefits: Perspectives from the C-suite and HR/benefit managers,” looked at trends expected within the next five years.

The report noted that those perspectives differ depending on whom you’re talking to. Human resources and benefit managers viewed some strategies differently from those at the executive level.

Sixty percent of companies surveyed are (or will be) tinkering with the types of health plans available. Of these, many expect their companies to move toward self-funded plans, private exchanges and plans with higher deductibles.

Most respondents agreed that the short-term challenge will revolve around balancing the need to maintain high levels of employee morale, retention and productivity while controlling escalating costs. But the respondents differed in strategies to reach that balance.

Those at the managerial level believe the right mix of benefit offerings can help companies retain the best employees; for executive decision makers, benefits are seen as useful in bringing in new candidates on board.

Wellness programs are getting most of the attention from both groups—partly because the Affordable Care Act encourages companies to offer them. Among the executive-level respondents, 93 percent said they expect new or beefed-up wellness programs to play a key role in their plans over the next 18 months.

The study’s authors commented that companies should integrate wellness offerings into their existing benefit programs and productivity strategies.

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Studies report more Americans receiving care

A survey released earlier this year shows that many initial problems associated with a lack of health care coverage before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are starting to improve. As a result, even as some issues remain, more Americans are able to obtain and afford the care they need.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • For the first time since 2003, the number of working-age adults who failed to get needed care because of cost declined. The number of uninsured dropped from 80 million in 2012 to 66 million in 2014.
  • For the first time since 2005, the number of adults reporting medical bill problems declined—from 75 million in 2012 to 64 million two years later.
  • Among working age adults, the number of uninsured declined from 37 million in 2010 to 29 million in 2014, representing the first statistically significant decline since the survey began in 2001.
  • The age group with the steepest gains in coverage was between ages 19 and 34. The rate of uninsured in this group dropped from 27 percent in 2010 to 19 percent in 2014—largely because of the ACA provision which took effect in 2010, allowing children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.
  • Insurance coverage among low-income Americans (those with incomes below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level) increased significantly. Although Florida was not among the states accepting federal Medicaid expansion funds, the national rate of uninsured in this income group fell from 36 percent in 2010 to 24 percent in 2014.

Despite these improvements, the survey reported that most without insurance continue to experience problems paying for medical care. Among the uninsured, which includes low-income patients in states that, like Florida, declined federal Medicaid expansion funds, 57 percent avoided getting care they needed because of the cost; 51 percent reported having problems paying medical bills.


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Christmas in July?

Unfortunately Florida Blue will not be closed for a Christmas in July holiday, but just a reminder that Florida Blue will be closed on these remaining 2015 holidays:

  • Memorial Day, Monday, May 25
  • Independence Day, Friday, July 4
  • Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7
  • Thanksgiving, Thursday and Friday, Nov. 26-27
  • Christmas, Friday, Dec. 25

Agents will be notified in advance of any special agent service center hours. Please be sure to mark your calendars!

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Minimal impact from ACA employer mandate

A recent survey released by HR consulting firm Mercer suggests the ACA’s employer mandate had little impact on the number of workers receiving company-sponsored health insurance benefits.

The first phase of the mandate’s implementation, affecting companies with 100 or more workers, took effect January 1, 2015. It required those companies to offer health insurance benefits to at least 70 percent of their full-time employees (FTEs) or pay a penalty. Phase two, extending the mandate to companies with 50 or more FTEs, is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2016. For purposes of eligibility the ACA defined FTEs as those who consistently work 30 hours per week.

The survey, which included 572 employers, revealed that most had already met the mandate’s requirements; 16 percent altered their eligibility policies to comply with the requirement. While it noted a 1.6 percent rise in the total number of workers covered by employer-sponsored health plans between 2014 and 2015, it attributed the change to a 2.2 percent rise in the size of the national workforce itself.

The survey found 88 percent of employees were eligible for coverage (up one percent from last year), but the percent who actually took advantage of eligibility and enrolled dropped to 83 percent (down one percent from last year).

The results seem to alleviate concerns that the mandate would prompt employers to alter their workforces in order to avoid compliance. According to the survey, two percent of respondents said they reduced staff in order to avoid having to comply with the mandate; three percent said they planned to stop offering health coverage in the next five years.

Broken out by company size, a quarter of respondents had 5,000 or more employees; 22 percent had between 500 and 4,999 employees; the remaining 28 percent had fewer than 500.


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Florida Blue collecting member information

Communication improves when you speak the language. That’s the thinking behind a new capability at Florida Blue. Members (non-Alliance) can choose to provide information about their race, ethnicity, language preference and disabilities (RELD) information.

The information, provided voluntarily, is used to improve communications and the overall member experience. Some examples of member communication that will be improved by incorporating RELD data include:

  • printed documents in alternate formats and languages
  • servicing member inquiries in their language of preference
  • tailoring health care solutions for added relevance to members
  • making web content more appropriate for members

The capability to opt into the RELD data collection program began in December 2014 with the Individual Sales Tool and the rollout will continue through 2015 and beyond.

More recent milestones allow members who access their Personal Health Assessment on WebMD to update voluntary RELD questions. In April—new information fields will appear when the member logs in to their account and selects the My Profile tab. And more enhancements are scheduled.

More details about the RELD data collection implementation are contained in Agent Sales Bulletin #A15-046.

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HCR resources for groups

As health care reform (HCR) evolves and existing deadlines appear on the horizon, it’s a challenge to be sure your large and small groups comply with all the requirements and reporting.

Fortunately, we have updated resources to help you navigate the landscape and provide exceptional client service. And there’s no better time to review what’s available.

Log in to accessBlue, select ‘Health Care Reform & You’ and click on ‘Health Care Reform Educational Materials’ to access a library of checklists and guides including:

  • ACA Guide for Group Employers
  • ACA Checklist for Large Group ASOs  
  • ACA Checklist for Large Group fully insured
  • ACA Checklist for Small Groups

Florida BlueAgent Bulletins provide reliable information and important links on a wide range of HCR topics. Two of them speak specifically and in detail about reporting minimum essential coverage. On accessBlue, remember to change to the correct quarter to view past bulletins.

  • Bulletin #A14-317: HCR requirements for reporting minimum essential coverage to IRS. Includes useful links to IRS forms, FAQs, etc. From Oct. 2014.
  • Bulletin #A15-009: HCR reporting of offers of health insurance coverage by employers (IRS section 6056). From January 2015.

Use these resources to brush up on your own knowledge base and make yourself indispensable to business clients.

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