An ambitious effort by some of the North Bay's top employee benefit brokers to reduce health insurance costs for employers is being delayed by several months, the result of brokers being swamped with what is arguably the busiest open-enrollment season on record.

The Task Force on Lowering Insurance Costs was announced in late August, modeled on a similar effort for Fortune 500 companies that brokers said was not available to mid-sized employers throughout the state.

Brokers involved in the project are: Keith McNeil and Jordan Shields of the SSM Group, a Novato-based division of national brokerage United Benefits Advisors; Victor McKnight of EPIC Insurance Brokers in Petaluma; John Fradelizio and Bud Martin of Wells Fargo Insurance Services in Petaluma; John Zervakos of Willis Insurance Services of California in San Francisco; and Jim Settles and Chris Reiter of Wooduff-Sawyer & Co. in Novato.

With the looming implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including enrollment that begins tomorrow, Mr. McNeil said brokers are simply swamped.

"In talking to the broker partners, it became obvious that with all of the end-of-the-year renewal activity, along with the added complexity due to the ACA, it would be better to postpone the meetings until mid-January," he said. "At that point, we hope the employers will be past the immediate renewal issues and then able to consider possible long-term solutions."

Between now and then, Mr. McNeil said the Task Force partners would work to add more meetings in January, "so that the meetings then should be more detailed and helpful than the more introductory meetings that were planned." The group initially hoped to begin meeting with employers last week.

The intent of the Task Force, inspired in part by the Pacific Business Group on Health, is to collectively come up with solutions for employers through a non-profit entity, where mid-sized employers could potentially benefit from sharing best practices, advocating as a group with health plans and potentially even combine purchasing power.


Burnham Benefits Insurance Services recently brought on two new members to its San Rafael branch, which opened earlier this year.  Senior Account Executive Laurel McClay and Account Executive Michele M. Dang will support the firm’s growth and expansion in the Northern California market.

Ms. McClay joins Burnham Benefits with more than 30 years’ experience in the industry. Prior to joining Burnham, Ms. McClay served in executive roles with several major national firms working with clients on both local and national levels. Ms. Dang brings more than 25 years of industry experience to her role as account executive with Burnham Benefits.

Irvine-based Burnham Benefits expanded into Marin County earlier this year, led by San Francisco insurance veteran Michael Michalski, who joined as an equity partner and regional president.

“Laurel and Michele’s combined experience in the industry will make a huge impact on expanding the level of service we can provide to the region,” Mr. Michalski said.

Burnham has four offices in California: Irvine, San Rafael, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, as well as offices in Oregon and the Washington D.C. metro area.


Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company announced the appointment of Eric Brandt to the position of chief claims officer, responsible for leading the claims and risk services division.

A 20-year veteran of the insurance industry, Mr. Brandt has held a variety of claims leadership positions at The Hartford and Progressive Insurance. Mr. Brandt most recently served as senior vice president of claims at The Hartford, where he was responsible for leading both the group benefits division and unbundled specialty casualty business.

“Eric brings a wealth of insurance industry experience and claims expertise that will be instrumental in enhancing our reputation of providing industry-leading claims and risk services to our valued customers,” said Andrew Torrance, president and CEO at Fireman’s Fund.

Mr. Brandt holds a degree in insurance from Pennsylvania State University.


With tomorrow's roll out of California's state-run health benefits exchange established under Obamacare, also known as Covered California, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones issued a statement urging consumers and small business "to be vigilant" about protecting personal and financial information and to make sure they were using official government websites or working with certified enrollment counselors or licensed health agents when shopping for health insurance coverage.

"We want consumers to know that they can go to Covered California to shop for new health insurance products and learn if they are eligible for federal premium subsidies that will make insurance more affordable," Commissioner Jones said.

Covered California, and other state-run health exchanges like it, is "one of the most significant components" of the new health law, but Commissioner Jones warned of bogus websites attempting to associate themselves with the exchange for more than a year now.

Insurance Commissioner said warns consumers who want to shop through Covered California  should not to enter any personal or financial information into a website without first verifying they are in fact on the official Covered California website.

The department's licensing bureau has denied more than 150 license applications for business names designed to market health coverage services because the proposed names could confuse or mislead the public into believing they were actually California's health benefit exchange - Covered California.


Submit items for this column to Staff Writer Dan Verel, dverel@busjrnl.com.