Health InsuranceInsuranceSmall Business

A business resurrection as consumer value returns to employee benefits

Going back since more than 20 years ago to the late 1990s, I was licensed as an insurance producer in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It was – and still is – tough to be called a small business compensation and benefits expert without also being an expert in insurance. I was generally conversant in the insurance laws of each jurisdiction and, more importantly, could often offer comments to consumers on how they could find better value by exploiting the variances in insurance standards to maximize benefits where they lived. It is not legally required that a financial technology adviser be registered as a producer but I usually found that offered the best value to online consumers. Rather than pay a separate advisory fee, the insurance exchange or network just paid me a fee for referring people when we determined a best fit situation. That licensing is expensive and time-consuming. But my business operating under the brand names Freedom Benefits and Medsave were heavily involved in the first wave transformation of insurance services to the internet. Both brands achieved national recognition. I was invited to testify before Congress on health care reform needed by small businesses and someone at the White House was a regular reader of my blog in those years (it was easier to backtrack online user information in those days). I stopped counting users I directly served after 50,000. Then I sold Medsave in 2010 when it was clear that the Affordable Care Act would allow fewer options for me to offer value to insurance buyers. I am no longer affiliated with Medsave in any capacity but I retained the intellectual property assets and branding of Freedom Benefits.

Freedom Benefits solutions with Tony Novak CPA, MBA, MT

Freedom Benefits continued to operate quietly for a decade from 2010 to 2020 and served consumers primarily through the OnlineAdviser network of insurance agent web sites. I watched revenues plummet during that time but I just did not see much opportunity to expand in the way that had been successful adding value to consumers and small employers. I decided that it was better to wait on the sidelines than participate in a system that usually did not offer good consumer value. I did some public speaking on the topic for NJCPA and others in the 2010-2014 years but have been quiet since then. But now under evolving current federal and state laws Freedom Benefits is fully re-energized and operating as an advisory service nationwide, focusing on new opportunities to access available benefits, increase retirement resources, reduce taxes and increase satisfaction with an otherwise problematic U.S. healthcare system.

Late last year I closed my longstanding Pennsylvania and Delaware offices and relocated to rural Cumberland County, New Jersey with an office on the shore of the Delaware Bay. That business relocation turned out to be one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever taken on. A communication error with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office caused my trademark to expire and I had to start all over licensing the brand name I’ve used for decades. Paperwork delays, costs, snafus piled up during the process. The Covid shutdown made it worse. Finally, last week, the state of New Jersey issued my New Jersey resident life, accident and health insurance license after months of delay. That means that I can again offer clients the option of having me share a payment from the insurer rather than charge directly. (The details and disclosures are covered in an engagement agreement for each case; a sample of this is posted online).

During the agonizing transfer period some of my state non-resident insurance licenses lapsed. It may be an even more expensive and time-consuming task to restore them (although it’s a lot easier to manage with online services now than in 1995 when I started, using old fashioned mail and phone calls for the licensing process). But I will get them back; even if I need to ‘bite the bullet’ and spend the thousands in excess license restoration fees that might be required. I have a few lingering copyright, contractual and brand infringement issues but those will resolve in time.

In the 2001 book “John Henry Days” by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Colson Whitehead, the author proposes the concept that there are really only three types of business news stories: 1) business launches, 2) business closes and 3) new business rises from the ashes. Clearly this story is in the last category. I am especially grateful for the patience and support of those who stood with me through this long business transformation, especially several outstanding people at SASidGreg, Jamie and others, my business strategy coach Sebastian, as well as my brother John and those at MassMutual in Philadelphia and other companies – who made this arrival in an evolving industry possible.

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