In college, Mike Watts studied economics and found himself on a path that led him to a job in the commercial banking industry following graduation. But he quickly realized that didn’t hit the right spirit. “I realized that I wanted a position that would allow me to build relationships and help people on a daily basis. Growing up, both of my parents were educators and I always admired how they had the ability to make a difference in peoples’ lives within our community,” he recalls. Then one day as he began pursuing a job opportunity on behalf of a friend, he got an offer himself. “As I was calling a friend of mine about this job opening — originally on behalf of another friend — he said, ‘Everyone I’ve been talking to said I should be hiring you,” says Watts. Suddenly, Watts was in insurance and building relationships and helping people navigate the health insurance marketplace.
He looks back a few years and says with a slight chuckle, “When I first started attending NAHU events I was one of the youngest members in the room, and it hit me three or four years ago as I was looking around, ‘Wow — when I did age out of being the young kid? There’s like three levels of younger members under me!’”
In April of this year, Watts left a position with a carrier that he held since he started in the industry for a new job with Janesville, Wisconsin-based SASid, short for “Simple and Smart Insurance Development”, as the new VP of Sales heading up the company’s Indiana operations. “We build insurance platforms in the supplemental health markets with options from a variety of carriers. These platforms allow agents to sell policies that range from short-term medical, fixed indemnity, dental, vision and other ancillary products under a single billing source,” he says. Originally founded in 1998 by two brothers, Watts learned about them and SASid through his prior work at HCC. “I always admired what they built and what they stand for. Their mindset is always to innovate the market and to build products that add value to every situation. Their model has always intrigued me,” he says.
Watts is currently working with six individuals at their Indianapolis office, but they intend to double that number by the end of this year or early next. He’s looking at ways to get SASid more involved with NAHU to help in that growth.
Watts also serves as the Membership Recruitment Chair with the Indiana State Association of Health Underwriters. He encourages young agents to take a look at NAHU. “It instantly gives credibility to your name. When you talk to people and they know you’re in NAHU, you have a common bond. When you start you might not know much about the industry, but going to the meetings you’re going to meet new people.”
This was sage advice in 2006 when Watts was fresh out of college and needed a dose of credibility. “I became a member early in my career, and just like everyone I went to the local meetings and took part in the charity events,” he says. “But probably what struck me the most is when I went to Capitol Conference,” he recalls. “Capitol Conference has always been the one event I get most excited for. NAHU does such a good job of explaining what’s going on in the market. You get to meet with your senators and congressional representatives. If you can only make one event a year, go to Capitol Conference because you’ll walk away with a handful of things to apply to your customers and business.”
Capitol Conference has been a spirited place for the past several years as insurance legislation passed between chambers and the White House all while NAHU and other interests try to make sense of what’s happening. Since the Affordable Care Act, NAHU’s stance — and the stance of many individual agents — has been that the ACA is more harm than good. This puts Health Underwriters against ardent supporters around the political lightning rod that is the ACA.
“This idea that NAHU leans conservative only comes from the ACA because it’s so political,” says Watts. “At the end of the day, everyone fully understands our health system isn’t working. Rate increases are as bad or worse as they were before the Affordable Care Act was passed. In many instances, customers are frustrated with their premium payments and the lack of options in their area. When we talk about everyone having access to insurance, everyone jumps on board. But how do you fund that?” Watts admits he doesn’t know the answer to that question but points to an unlikely source for inspiration: Canada.
Watts’ previous employer specialized in providing international healthcare and he saw a side of healthcare many don’t. “Single payer isn’t all that great. If you’re going for a non-life-threatening and routine surgery, like a knee replacement, Canadian doctors would tell you to come back in several months. Here in the US, we can schedule that in a week or two,” says Watts. “Canadians would come to the US or go to a private Canadian hospital that accepts private insurance. Most people don’t realize Canada has two sets of providers — single payer hospitals but also private institutions that accept other forms of insurance.”
It may be another generation before industry-moving legislation happens Stateside again. For now, Watts thinks we’re at a time where brokers and carriers have figured out ways to make things work under the Affordable Care Act. But, Watts says, “We’re entering a period of time where there’s another shift coming because the individual market isn’t stable. A college professor of mine always told me that opportunity awaits whenever there is a shift in the supply or demand of a marketplace.”
Given the change, however fast or glacial it may seem at any time, Watts says he’s glad NAHU is there to give everyone a voice. “I don’t know if one system will work for everyone, but like any industry, we can make it better. We can think of new things and innovate. NAHU serves a strong purpose there with a multitude of messages,” says Watts.