BY WYATT STEWART
Source: www.iamagazine.com, December 2019
Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a legislative package that includes three key priorities for independent agents. The legislation would reauthorize the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), extend the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “Cadillac tax,” all as part of government funding legislation. Just hours ago, the U.S. Senate passed the same package and it will now head to the White House where President Trump has signaled he would sign it into law.
The action on these three priorities was made even more impressive as it was done during a heightened sense of partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C. in the same week that the House voted to impeach President Trump. Of course, these victories didn’t happen by chance. The Big “I” government affairs team, which just one week earlier was the only agent/broker group named by the Hill newspaper in a list of top trade association lobbyists in Washington, D.C., spent 2019 aggressively lobbying on TRIA, the NFIP and repeal of the “Cadillac tax” amongst other issues.
These advocacy efforts included hundreds of meetings with members of Congress and their staff, providing testimony to key committees and sending numerous letters to congressional offices on these important issues. In addition, nearly 1,000 independent agents advocated on all three issues during the annual Big “I” Legislative Conference in May of this year. These efforts by Big “I” members were vital in getting these provisions to the finish line.
The provision on TRIA would reauthorize the program for seven years without making significant changes to the program. The Big “I” spent much of 2019 pushing Congress to reauthorize TRIA well in advance of its scheduled expiration at the end of 2020. The Big “I” provided testimony to both the U.S. Senate Banking Committee and the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services requesting a clean, long-term reauthorization of the program. The Big “I” also worked closely with other insurance industry stakeholders and commercial policyholder groups on the effort which included meeting with numerous members of Congress and their staff and sending multiple letters to congressional offices.
The funding legislation also included an extension of the NFIP through Sept. 30, 2020. The program is currently scheduled to expire tomorrow, Dec. 20. While not perfect, this provides more certainty to a program that has seen several short-term extensions recently, with some as short as a few weeks. The Big “I” provided testimony to the House Committee on Financial Services on the NFIP and met with members of Congress and their staff throughout the year to make sure the program didn’t lapse while also pushing for a long-term extension of the NFIP. The Big “I” will continue to advocate for a multi-year reauthorization of the NFIP that will modernize the program, and this will be a top issue for the 2020 Big “I” Legislative Conference.
Finally, the funding legislation included a provision to repeal the “Cadillac tax,” a 40% excise tax on employer-sponsored health insurance plans that exceed a certain cost threshold. The tax was previously delayed twice and is currently set to take effect in 2022. Although the tax was intended to target only high-value plans, more modest plans were also projected to trigger the tax which would unfairly and disproportionately affect middle-income Americans, women, seniors and working families. It would also heavily penalize small businesses by potentially forcing them to choose between paying the tax or reducing benefits for their employees.
Following passage of the ACA, the Big “I” has consistently advocated for repeal of this onerous tax and has been an active member of the Alliance to Fight the 40, a broad-based coalition comprised of businesses, patient advocates, employer organizations, unions, local governments, health care companies, consumer groups and other stakeholders pushing for repeal of the tax. Big ‘I’ efforts included numerous meetings with members of Congress and their staff as well as sending several letters to congressional offices showing broad support for repeal.
Wyatt Stewart is Big “I” senior director of federal government affairs.