Incoming NABIP CEO calls for more equitable access to health insurance and benefits

The industry has a role to play in moving the DEI needle, she says

Incoming NABIP CEO calls for more equitable access to health insurance and benefits

Life & Health

By Gia Snape

The National Association of Benefits and Insurance Professionals’ (NABIP) incoming chief executive, Jessica Brooks-Woods, says the industry has a role to play in bridging gaps in health insurance and benefits coverage for Americans, especially those in communities with poor access.

Brooks-Woods is set to lead the organization beginning September 1, 2023, overseeing the representation of more than 100,000 licensed health insurance agents, brokers, general agents, consultants, and benefits professionals across the United States.

Speaking to Insurance Business, the business leader, health equity advocate and benefits expert said the COVID-19 pandemic elevated the conversations around healthcare in a way the industry hadn’t seen before.

“We have a role to play to ensure that we don't only provide access to care,” Brooks-Woods said. “What are we providing access to, and how do we ensure that we have an influence in those outcomes that meet the quality of life of Americans?

“I believe NABIP is primed to drive that high-impact work further, given the influence of our members as insurance consultants, agents and those impacting not only the private insurance market, but the Medicare insurance market as well.”

Navigating the ‘complex and diverse’ health insurance landscape

Conversations around healthcare disparities have been a large part of Brooks-Woods’ focus over the last three years as CEO and co-founder of the Executive Action and Response Network (EARN) and EARN Staffing Solutions.

An association of African American leaders and executives, EARN was launched in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, a response to growing cultural awareness about racial inequalities in the corporate America.

EARN Staffing Solutions is a consulting firm specializing in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) solutions for companies seeking to attract and retain talent.

Until 2022, Brooks-Woods was also president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health (PBGH), a non-profit coalition of employers dedicated to helping companies provide high-quality, equitable, and affordable healthcare for their employees.

Having seen different sides of the healthcare and benefits insurance industry, Brooks-Woods is conscious of the barriers that Americans face in achieving healthcare coverage. But she’s confident that NABIP can be a force for change.

“The landscape of the health care system and insurance is very complex and diverse, and our [NABIP’s] members are a good representation of what Americans communities and families face,” she said.

Access and affordability have enormous variability depending on location, she explained. Densely populated areas can have great primary care access, while rural communities can be “healthcare deserts.”

“I want to prioritize and highlight that diversity does exist throughout the country, and that our constituents have different entry points and experiences based on different factors,” Brooks-Woods said. “I think that’s something that’s been underneath everything we do but hasn’t been pushed to the top [of the agenda].”

NABIP’s members, who are navigating the frontlines of this complex landscape, should have their voices heard and help create solutions in the marketplace.

“At the end of the day, I want NABIP to be not just voice, but a leader in driving the future of healthcare,” she stressed.

Creating more inclusivity through a diverse workforce

At the same time, Brooks-Woods is confident that a diverse workforce can help move the needle on DEI in the healthcare and benefits sector.

“I believe that it's necessary to look at the future of our workforce,” she said. “Are we attracting the best and brightest, the most compassionate and empathetic future insurance agents, consultants, and benefits professionals to the industry?

“Because we need people who want to help others. We need people that understand that there's a great opportunity here, but also that there’s a great responsibility.”

As NABIP CEO, Brooks-Woods intends to focus on workforce development and engagement among the organization’s members across 200 chapters.

Many of NABIP’s members are independent and/or family-owned brokerages and consulting firms, according to Brooks-Woods.

Building capacity involves helping them evolving their business models “to meet our mission,” and in responding to legislation “in a way that ensures [they] can serve clients and communities while also meeting new requirements of transparency and value,” she said.

Positioning NABIP as a trusted source

Brooks-Woods takes over NABIP’s leadership from outgoing CEO Janet Trautwein, who has served the organization for 26 years.

“I am excited to see Jessica build upon our work, leveraging her industry and DEI expertise, as she leads the premier association for health insurance and employee benefits professionals,” Trautwein said of Brooks-Woods’ appointment.

As she steps into her new role, Brooks-Woods’ first priority is to connect with NABIP’s members and make sure the organization is “primed to have an impact.”

“We’re not a mere voice in the ecosystem,” she told Insurance Business. “We’re a leading voice, and I’m most excited about elevating our positioning moving forward. Ultimately, we want to become a trusted source.”

Do you agree with NABIP’s incoming CEO on creating equitable access and diversity in the healthcare and benefits industry? Sound off in the comments.

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