Employee Benefit Advisor

14 politically active brokers to know across the U.S.


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Despite the chance to impact daily decision making on critical healthcare, employee benefit and broker industry issues, many politically active advisers agree they are among just 10% of brokers who are involved in local and national politics. EBA presents leading brokers in each region of the country who are actively working to change the industry.


Michael Lujan

‎Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Limelight Health, San Francisco

President, California Association of Health Underwriters

Former Director, Sales and Marketing, Covered California

CAHU was able to defeat California Proposition 45, which would have required the state’s insurance commissioner to approve rate changes for individual and employer small-group plans.

“I’ve never been a very political person. I think the Affordable Care Act has moved many of us

— folks like me — to be more involved because the law is more than just health policy and has moved into a space that is home for us,” Lujan says. “Legislation that is intended to compliment, fix or clarify the ACA is happening, it seems, by the day.”

MD Sam Smith

President, Genesis Financial, Encino, Calif.

Past President, California Association of Health Underwriters

Chair of the Health Care Committee, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

CAHU supported and opposed several bills in 2015, including AB 1163. CAHU, the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of California National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors joined together to sponsor AB 1163, which had been introduced by Assembly member Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona) to provide for reasonable notice of major changes made by a carrier to an agent agreement.

“We remain connected because we have to be a resource for the people in Sacramento. … The way the election system works, legislators rotate through a cycle so fast, they never get the chance to be experts,” Smith says. “We have to remain connected with them and be a resource for them.” Otherwise, Smith says when bills come up and legislators are left to their own devices, “they can run amok.”


Shelly K. Winson

Founder, True Choice Benefits LLC, Chandler, Ariz.

President, Arizona Association of Health Underwriters

Board of Directors, Chandler Chamber of Commerce

After years of trying, Winson helped to get a continuing education bill passed in Arizona. “Prior to that there were no CE requirements for Arizona insurance brokers,” she says. “We feel it’s an important mechanism for maintaining an educated professional pool of insurance/employee benefit professionals.”

“Health insurance is very complicated and difficult to comprehend for those who don’t work in the industry,” Winson says. “I’m involved in public policy issues surrounding health insurance and healthcare to help legislators understand how an uninformed or ill-considered decision can really hurt people, despite the best intentions.”


David Walker

President, Hartland Insurance Agency, Hartland, Mich.

Executive Director, Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America

Township Trustee, Tyrone Township, Mich.

During his time as chairman of IIABA, Walker was able to secure re-authorization of the Terrorism Risk and Insurance Act (commonly referred to as TRIA).  “This was very important at the national level,” he says.

For Walker, it is important to give back to the industry. But he also stays involved so he can understand not only how to help the industry but also to preserve his business. “There is an old Greek philosophy, ‘If you don’t pay attention to the government, don’t think the government isn’t paying attention to you,’” he says.

B. Hyatt Erstad

President, Erstad & Company Inc., Boise, Idaho

Government Relations Committee Chair, NAIFA

Board of Directors, Your Health Idaho

“This fall, President Barack Obama signed into law an ACA-modification bill, one that would repeal the ACA’s provision that would have set the definition of small group at up to 100 employees in 2016,” Erstad says. “NAIFA’s strong support for the PACE Act was instrumental in its passage.”

“It is critical that we get involved,” Erstad explains. “As long as you demonstrate having a vested interest in wanting to see [legislators] succeed, they have an open ear to what is going on in our industry and some of things that create real hard work for us.”

John Zern

Executive Vice President and Global Health Leader, Aon, Chicago

Member, Aon Political Action Steering Committee

Aon’s political action steering committee is an employee-funded effort to support business-minded candidates seeking elected office. Zern hosts elected leaders at Aon facilities around the country “in an effort to facilitate knowledge sharing between Aon and the candidates.

“In health, the area I lead, Aon has been actively engaged with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and how this sweeping change in the healthcare system impacts Aon clients,” he says. “Most recently, our efforts have focused on defining the scope of impact that the excise tax will have on plan sponsors and participants.”

“I try to meet with lawmakers at the state and federal level as much as possible to provide this perspective because I think it makes for better policy and better outcomes for our clients, carriers, and consumers,” Zern says. “Our clients expect us to be aware of opportunities and risks to their business, particularly those stemming from regulatory and legislative changes. Knowing the details of proposed bills and how those details impact clients’ business interests is critical.”


Mark Gaunya

Co-Owner and Chief Innovation Officer, Borislow Insurance, Methuen, Mass.

Board of Directors, Massachusetts Health Connector

Past President, Massachusetts Association of Health Underwriters

Chair, NAHU Transparency of Healthcare Cost and Quality Committee

In 2012, while serving as president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Underwriters, Gaunya worked with the state legislature to draft and pass a healthcare cost and quality transparency law. Chapter 224 went into effect in October 2014. “Given my personal passion on transparency it is an effort I’m very proud of and would like to see happen nationally,” he says.

Gaunya thinks more brokers should be involved in contacting legislators. “It is frustrating that me and my colleagues here in Massachusetts who do participate are carrying the water for 90% of the people. … But I also accept the fact that leadership is lonely and if you aren’t looking to lead, then don’t do it,” he says. “I think it is everybody’s civic responsibility when you are involved in your industry to participate. But I also accept the fact most people don’t make the time for it and think it’s a waste of time.”

Thomas M. Harte

President, Landmark Benefits, Hampstead, N.H.

Board of Directors, New Hampshire Association of Health Underwriters

Past President (2013), NAHU

On July 8, 2015, Harte testified in front of the U.S. Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee. His extensive testimony addressed multiple issues within the ACA. “While the ACA has brought many changes and market resources to consumers and employers, I am concerned about policies threatening the small group market’s viability that could lead to its erosion,” he said in submitted remarks to the committee.

“We are politically active because we recognize that the greatest respect we earn from our clients is from our passionate advocacy toward affecting meaningful change with the challenges they are facing from healthcare reform and the cost of health insurance. Standing on the sidelines will never make a difference,” Harte says.

James D. Schutzer

Vice President, J.D. Moschitto & Associates Inc., White Plains, N.Y.

President, New York State Association of Health Underwriters

Past President, New York Metro Association of Health Underwriters

In New York, NYAHU has recently worked on legislation to support wellness programs and to fix a loophole in the stop loss insurance law, which passed both houses but has not been signed by the governor yet.

“Politics runs in my blood, as my father was a New York State Senator and Assemblyman and then a lobbyist for a major telecommunications company,” Schutzer says. “I feel that brokers are in a unique position in the industry where we are in direct contact with employers, insurance companies and the provider community. My work experience allows me to best represent brokers’ and employers’ interests in shaping state legislation.”


R. Dane Rianhard

Principal and Senior Consultant, Tribridge Partners, Baltimore

Board of Trustees, NAHU

Vice President, Region 2, NAHU

Rianhard worked in Maryland with the lieutenant governor to narrow the scope of Maryland’s public exchange and the role of navigators. As a NAHU board member, he also helped pave the way for the signing of the PACE Act by President Barack Obama in October.

“I feel it is critically important to be politically active on both a federal and state basis,” Rianhard says. “I have been involved directly with legislators and helped to affect changes that have protected our clients and our industry. I have been on the NAHU Board of Trustees for almost four years, and that service has been invaluable for our clients by knowing the inside track of the political heartbeat in D.C.”

Alan Schulman

Relationship Manager, The Meltzer Group, Bethesda, Md.

President, Maryland Association of Health Underwriters

Board Member, Maryland Joint Legislative Committee

Member, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce

Maryland House Bill 552 and Senate Bill 703 as originally proposed “would have made stop loss insurance too big of a risk for small insurers to use for their employee group health plans. If passed as proposed it would have taken away a very valuable benefit for small employers, reduced competition and reduced choice in the Maryland marketplace — something that the ACA was supposed to support,” Schulman says.

Working with MAHU lobbyist Bryson Popham, the law was amended and then passed. The amended version allows the product to continue to be a valuable option for small employers in the State of Maryland. “There was a last minute meeting with myself, a client of mine and Bryson Popham with the majority house leader of the Maryland Senate that influenced the outcome of the amendment,” he adds. “The bill is now being studied as a result of our lobbying before further damage is done to small businesses in Maryland.”

“Legislators are enacting legislation, but not listening to all concerned parties. They are enacting legislation which is costing businesses far more money than is necessary,” Schulman says. “They are increasing premiums with Obamacare. … Recently in Maryland, a bill came up regarding partially self-insured plans that would have made them very unattractive to small groups.”


Ed Oleksiak

Vice President, Holmes Murphy, Dallas

Chair, NAHU Legislative Council

In Texas, Oleksiak worked with several individuals to ensure the continued availability of telemedicine in Texas. Nationally, he has worked with NAHU on comment papers about the EEOC Wellness Rules and the Cadillac Tax.

Once a relationship is built, “you can have an impact on legislation and policy as it being crafted,” Oleksiak says.

Joe Phifer

Senior Account Executive, Assurant Employee Benefits, Dallas

President, Texas Association of Health Underwriters

Nationally, Phifer says TAHU has formed some great relationships with Texas’ Members of Congress and U.S. Senators. “Right now, we are working to educate them on the effects of the Cadillac Tax,” he says. “We think this is a bad idea, and it’s been something we’ve been able to discuss with politicians from both sides of the aisle.”

In Texas, TAHU was the driving force behind rewriting and updating the Small Employer legislation, SB 1332, in 2013 which amended the definition of small group insurance in Texas for the first time in 20 years. “The bill allowed many Texas employers to not only save millions of dollars, it enabled them to avoid many of the complex and onerous requirements small group plans must meet under the Affordable Care Act,” Phifer explains. “This was a win for our Association members and their clients.”

“Much of the frustration within our industry is a direct result of legislation, but the upside to these changes is a reignited entrepreneurial spirit and very real opportunity for business growth. After all, the services we all provide are more important now than ever,” Phifer says.

Ken Stevenson

Vice President, Earl Bacon Agency, Tallahassee, Fla.

President-elect, Florida Association of Health Underwriters

Prior Member, Governor’s Task Force on Access to Affordable Health Insurance

Vice Chair, Florida Health Choices

After writing a white paper that was distributed to legislators, FAHU was able to get legislation passed in Florida to regulate the Navigators created by the ACA. “Prior to passage, there was no protection for a consumer that was given bad or misleading information by a navigator,” Stevenson says. “And anyone could be a navigator and give unqualified insurance advice to consumers.” The bill requires registration and background checks with the office of insurance regulation.

“Being active with NAHU and FAHU in the legislative process is important because our elected officials come from many walks of life and don’t have the expertise when it comes to making decisions that affect the healthcare of Americans and the health insurance industry,” Stevenson says. “I have become a trusted resource for our elected officials.  I have their ears because I represent thousands of individual consumers and can effectively relay real life issues.”