Ohio independent agents urge senators to help businesses with health insurance options

Senate Bill 227 Testimony - Alex Due - Stapleton InsuranceSenate Bill 227 Testimony - Brian Thompson - Hummel GroupTwo OIA members recently urged members of the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee to pass legislation that would require health insurers to release certain aggregate claims information to group plan policyholders.

OIA member Alex Due of Stapleton Insurance Group in Sylvania testified in conjunction with OIA’s Government Affairs Manager Carolyn Mangas. Brian Thompson of the Hummel Group, who is also an OIA member, testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Ohio Association of Health Underwriters (OAHU).

Read full testimony

About the bill

Sponsored by Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima), S.B. 227 will provide a solution to a problem that OIA members have brought to our attention over the last several years.

By allowing risk advisors and employers access to claims data, Ohio employers can make better decisions regarding properly assessing health care options to potentially reduce their health care costs.

While this claims data is typically available to employers with 100-plus employees, it is not available to those that fall below this threshold. The lack of this data hinders the ability of risk advisers and employers to pursue additional funding arrangements that have become available in the last several years.

Ultimately, S.B. 227 would empower risk advisors and employers with the ability to better design a health insurance program that balances the level of risk and reward.

Notably, both Louisiana and Texas have similar laws in place to require health insurers to release claims data.

Several others testified in support of S.B. 227 in addition to OIA and OAHU. Opponents of the bill include the association that represents the health insurance companies and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, who cited concerns that employers could identify employees with serious health conditions and discriminate against them.

To date, S.B. 227 has received three hearings in the Senate Insurance & Financial Institutions Committee.

OIA is working with the OAHU to push for an amendment to the bill so that it will apply to employers with more than 50 employees to alleviate some privacy concerns. OIA will keep members informed as discussions on this legislation continue.

Kasich Appoints Mary DeGenaro to Ohio Supreme Court

Justice Mary DeGenaroGov. Kasich recently appointed Mary DeGenaro to fill the remaining time of Bill O’Neill’s term on the Ohio Supreme Court.

While O’Neill’s term does not expire until January of 2019, he resigned his seat on the Court to run for governor. He would not have been eligible to run for another term on the court due to age restrictions.

Prior to being appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court, Justice DeGenaro served nearly 17 years as a judge on the Seventh District Court of Appeals in Youngstown.

Upcoming Ohio Supreme Court Race

Justice DeGenaro has already announced that she will be running as a candidate for the upcoming six-year term for the seat in the November election.

With the Court races often coming down to the candidate with the best sounding name winning (usually the most Irish), Justice DeGenaro’s appointment will be beneficial in helping her to gain some name recognition with voters ahead of the November election. She has also received the endorsement by the Ohio Republican Party.

A second vacancy will be created on the Court later this year as a result of Justice Terrence O’Donnell also being ineligible to run for another term. Judge Craig Baldwin has already announced that he will be running for this seat. He has also been endorsed by the Ohio Republican Party.

Both Justice Mary DeGenaro and Judge Craig Baldwin visited OIA last summer. 

In January, Michael Donnelly, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge, and Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Melody Stewart of Cleveland, announced that they will also run for election to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Court and Ohio's Insurance Marketplace

As the third branch of government, the Court’s decisions play a critical role in determining whether Ohio consumers, businesses and independent agents will have a stable, predictable and competitive insurance marketplace to do business.

If you weren’t in the insurance industry in the 1990s and missed the era of an extremely activist Ohio Supreme Court, take a look at my blog about some of the crazy decisions that created havoc in the insurance industry and why the Court races really do matter.

OIA will keep you informed on these races as they get closer.

Federal Tax Reform: What IAs Need to Know

Tax reform stamp US Capital building

On Dec. 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed into law sweeping changes to the U.S. tax code.

Impact on IAs

The centerpiece of this law is a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent. This is a significant tax reform that will have a positive impact on many independent agencies.

The law also changes tax rates for individuals and creates a special deduction for small businesses (including insurance agencies).

While OIA focuses on state issues pertinent to Ohio’s independent agents and consumers, your national associations advocate before Congress and the Trump administration. The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (Big “I”) focuses on national issues such as changes to the federal tax code.

The Big “I” has developed a white paper outlining the most salient provisions of the new tax law that could impact independent agents.

Keep in mind that the tax changes will impact you differently depending on whether you’re organized as a C corporation or a business entity such as a subchapter S corporation, partnership or sole proprietorship.

The Times, They Are A-Changin’

This law is the biggest tax overhaul in 30 years (since former President Ronald Reagan’s Tax Reform Act of 1986). How the law is being implemented, including how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will interpret certain provisions, remains to be seen.

In 2018 and beyond, the IRS will issue detailed regulations and guidance that will impact tax planning for independent agents moving forward.

For more information and exclusive resources about the new tax changes, visit the Big “I” member page.

Can punitive damages be awarded in a breach of contract?

Gavel and scales punitive damages

Last week, the Supreme Court of Ohio issued a ruling in an insurance case that called into question whether punitive damages can be awarded in a breach of contract claim.

The case, which involves an insurance agent and Nationwide Insurance, had the potential to change the landscape of not only the insurance industry, but businesses at large in Ohio.

In a 6-1 decision, the Court reversed a judgment of the Seventh District Court of Appeals, clarifying that punitive damages are not recoverable in a breach-of-contract lawsuit. The exception to this rule is if the breach involves a tort, among other clarifications the decision provides to Ohio contract law:

  • When a breach of contract involves conduct that also constitutes a tort, punitive damages may be awarded only for the tort, not for the breach, and any punitive damages awarded are subject to the statutory limitations on punitive damages imposed in R.C. 2315.21.

  • A party to a contract does not breach the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing by seeking to enforce the agreement as written or by acting in accordance with its express terms, nor can there be a breach of the implied duty unless a specific obligation imposed by the contract is not met.

  • An unconditional release of liability becomes effective upon execution and delivery and bars any claims encompassed within it, unless it was procured by fraud, duress, or other wrongful conduct.

  • A party seeking to avoid a release of liability on the basis that it was procured under duress is required to prove duress by clear and convincing evidence.

  • The prevention of performance doctrine, which states that a party who prevents another from performing a contractual obligation may not rely on that failure of performance to assert a claim for breach of contract, is not a defense to a release of liability and therefore cannot be asserted as a defense to a release.

  • A fraud claim cannot be predicated on predictions or projections relating to future performance or on misrepresentations made to third parties.

This is just one of many cases that showcase the important role of the Supreme Court of Ohio. With two of the seven justices up for election this November, you’ll want to pay close attention to this race. Learn why Supreme Court of Ohio races really do matter.

Read more about this ruling in Court News Ohio.

Read more

A mission to support kids with cancer, one race at a time

Ashley Winebrenner receives OIA Community Service AwardFor Ashley Winebrenner, making a difference for children with brain cancer has become a true calling in life.

Winebrenner, an independent agent at Dwyer Insurance Agency in London, OH, started Rockin’ on the Run, an annual walk/run to raise awareness about the prevalence of childhood brain tumors and raise money for research.

Now heading into its ninth year, Rockin’ on the Run brings in more than 500 participants and has raised more than $112,000 for pediatric brain cancer research.

Because of her selfless efforts, Winebrenner is the recipient of OIA’s prestigious 2017 Community Service Award.

“Our only goal was to create a memorable experience where Reagyn could have fun, just be a kid and forget about her cancer for the day.” Ashley Winebrenner

Coming together for a great cause

Inspired by a family friend’s daughter, Reagyn, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in 2009, Rockin' on the Run survivors and volunteersWinebrenner decided it was time to take action.

“When Reagyn was diagnosed with a brain tumor, we just felt so helpless – she was only five years old,” Winebrenner says. “I always thought brain tumors were very rare, but I soon realized how many children are being diagnosed with this disease every day.”

According to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, about 4,600 children are diagnosed with a brain tumor each year.

Winebrenner, along with her mom Johnda and Reagyn’s mom Carol, founded Rockin’ on the Run in 2010 to bring members of the community together to support Reagyn and other children battling this devastating disease.

“The three of us were at a walk/run supporting cancer research in Columbus, and we thought, ‘Why can’t we do this in London?’ she says. “We’re a small community and everyone knows Reagyn and her family. That’s how the idea for Rockin’ on the Run was born.”

During its first year, Rockin’ on the Run brought in more than 100 participants and raised $4,500 for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

“In the beginning, we had no idea what we were doing – just flying by the seat of our pants,” Winebrenner says with a laugh. “Our only goal was to create a memorable experience where Reagyn could have fun, just be a kid and forget about her cancer for the day.”

Giving back runs in the family

Winebrenner is part of a family passionate about community service. “When I was growing up, I was taught that you work hard and give back,” she says.

Funny group of volunteers at Rockin' on the RunThroughout her life, Winebrenner also experienced firsthand the importance of independent agents and the dedication and passion they bring not just to their clients but to their local communities.

Winebrenner’s great grandfather, Paul Dwyer, founded Dwyer Insurance Agency in 1931. In fact, Dwyer Insurance is the oldest family-run agency in Madison County.

Today, her father, Bill Beathard, is the agency owner. An independent agent for more than 40 years, Beathard has been an active member of his local community for many years, from volunteering on London City Council to the Madison County Emergency Medical District.

Following in both of their footsteps, Winebrenner understands the vital role that independent agents play as pillars in the local community.

“To keep the small town community spirit and hometown feel, events like Rockin’ on the Run are so important,” she says. “They let everyone know we might be busy with the hustle and bustle of daily life, but we are always here to support one another.”

‘This has become my mission’

Now, as a mother of three children (and a fourth on the way in April), Winebrenner says she is even more Participant at Rockin' on the Runmotivated to make a difference for children battling brain cancer.

“I was pregnant with my first daughter during our inaugural race,” she explains. “Once I had my daughter, I was so appreciative that she was healthy. I can’t imagine what parents of sick kids are going through. This has become my mission.”

Rockin’ on the Run now raises funds for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. Participants can choose whether they want their money to go toward the hospital’s cancer research efforts or the “fun fund,” which helps make a child’s stay more pleasant.

For example, the “fun fund” is used for art therapy, music therapy, holiday parties and gift cards for parents who commute a far distance. This fund is also used to pay for a teacher to work at the hospital in the summertime to help children catch up on their studies.

“We’ve formed a great relationship with Nationwide Children’s Hospital,” Winebrenner says. “We have two research doctors that speak at our event and participate in the race. They talk to the public about how the funds are used for cutting-edge research right here in Central Ohio.”

A milestone in the making

With Rockin on the Run’s 10th anniversary coming up in 2019, Winebrenner is excited for what the future holds. Rockin' on the Run Race DayThe nonprofit’s donation goal increases each year, and plans to start a second race in a different community are in discussion.

“Our 10th year is going to be really special for us,” Winebrenner recalls. “I’ve actually never run our race, so maybe I’ll lace up my running shoes to celebrate this milestone.”

As Rockin’ on the Run continues to grow each year, Winebrenner meets more and more children with brain tumors – moments that reinforce her dedication to the nonprofit’s mission.

“We had a very sick little girl come to our race who was getting ready to start treatment,” Winebrenner says. “We introduced her to Reagyn, who is now 16 years old, which gave her a light at the end of the tunnel. Hope that she won’t always feel sick. This is what Rockin’ on the Run is all about.”

To learn more about Rockin' on the Run, visit their Facebook page.

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