My path into the Medicare insurance world is a result of a very personal experience as a former Medicare beneficiary. At a very young age (28) I was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA) which as you probably know is a rather painful disease. Within two years I was forced onto disability experiencing a dramatic drop in income and spent the next year and a half living from the bed to the chair.
Still in my early 30s I was forced to make a decision, I can live with the pain or die in that chair. So I started taking college classes under the assumption that even though my body was a wreck I still have a brain. By the time I was eligible for Medicare my hands had become so deformed I could hardly hold a pencil. My rheumatologist suggested that since I now had insurance (Medicare) I could get my hands fixed surgically with joint replacements. At this point I learned just how little I knew about Medicare. No one ever told me there was any such thing as a Medicare supplement or the 20% Part B coinsurance so the bills began to roll in. The years went by and I finally entered my last semester of college in my quest for a bachelor degree in business administration. At this point I met a man worked for an “insurance company” that sold Medicare supplements and we both thought, because of my personal experience with Medicare and time living on a fixed income, it was a perfect fit and I was excited to be leaving disability and Medicare and returning to the workforce.
To make a long story short because my first job was as a captive agent, that meant I could only sell that company’s insurance plans. It wasn’t long before I knew that this was not the place for me so I left the “insurance company” to work for an “independent agency”. Finally, I would have access to the Medicare products of numerous companies so I did feel more helpful to people on Medicare as I could now replace expensive supplements with less expensive ones at the same benefit level thus saving the beneficiary money. At this point my wife Sonya joined the “independent agency” and began her own career as a Medicare Insurance Advisor. As we grew and learned more about the industry we discovered the Independent Agency had an unwritten policy which inferred that if the price goes up on an existing client’s policy don’t worry about it. We were to continue bringing in new business and if the price got too high they would call us. Even though it was an independent agency it seemed they still worked for the insurance company and not the client.
It was at this moment in time that the mission for what would become Southern Maine Retirement Services was arrived at and we still state this promise at the end of every meeting. “Our promise to you is to keep you on the lowest priced Medicare Supplement, Advantage Plan or Prescription Drug Plan at your desired benefit level. Because we don’t work for the insurance company we work for you”.
All of my early training and experiences in the industry were all about selling insurance. How to get into a prospect’s house and then how to close the sale. They used Medicare as an excuse to get into someone’s house only to cross sell some other insurance and that just didn’t set well with us. The turnover rate for new agents coming into the business was incredible but the companies I worked for didn’t care because they made their money off the new agent’s effort then moved on to the next new agent. Nothing mattered but writing the next application. They all preached service but nobody actually practiced it. Obviously this was not a recipe for success for either the Medicare beneficiary or the agent so Sonya and I set out to change that.
Because of my personal experience as a Medicare beneficiary for several years I wanted to create an agency that would be there for people as a trusted advisor for all the years they would be on Medicare. To answer their questions and help with any bills they don’t understand and be sure they had the right insurance for their needs.
On February 16, 2005 Southern Maine Retirement Services opened for business with the idea that we are partners in our client’s retirement. That we got paid, not for selling insurance but for providing the lifelong service of keeping the beneficiary on the most cost-effective plan for the benefit level they chose. The Medicare insurance market in Maine and New Hampshire is very complicated and dynamic. The sheer volume of choices, options and benefits is staggering and worse yet many these options change annually! How can the average person possibly keep up with that? Well, they can’t but that is what SMRS was specifically designed to do. To provide a security system if you will, that constantly watches the market, keeps up with the changes to ensure you have the latest up-to-date information at all times.
A jack of all trades is a master of none and I wanted us to be the masters of Medicare, so, to be of the greatest benefit to people we need to be experts in all areas of Medicare and that meant dropping a lot of the other products that most life and health agents sell like hospital indemnity, cancer and annuities then focusing almost exclusively on Medicare insurance products.
The problem for people aging into Medicare is that there too many new agents without sufficient knowledge or experience in Medicare. They simply don’t get the appropriate training and they don’t last long enough in the bus to get the experience. Our training model for new agents is a little different. We hired our new agent as a part-time employee to do administrative and customer service work. Brittany learned the world of Medicare by working the admin end for three years before taking her state life and health exam. Now she is appointed and certified with all the different companies and so has entered the sales force on a part-time basis. Soon she will transition to full time in the sales force and we’ll hire a new part time admin assistant and begin his /her training and with luck they will transition to sales in two years. As a result any agent you talk with at SMRS will have a minimum of two years of experience in the industry before they join the sales force.