WASHINGTON, D.C., April 3 - Addressing more than 800 independent insurance agents and brokers from cities and towns throughout the country today, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) each praised American troops fighting in Iraq and outlined other issues ranging from medical liability reform to tax provisions for small businesses.
Frist and Breaux were keynote speakers during the 27th Annual Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America’s (IIABA) National Legislative Conference. The 300,000-member national association’s legislative meeting is the insurance industry’s largest and most effective gathering of its kind, and takes place through tomorrow at the Capital Hilton in downtown Washington, D.C.
As the opening speaker, Frist said victory is certain in the war in Iraq. While the timetable of that victory is still not entirely clear, the objective of the war is: to disarm Saddam Hussein and liberate the people of Iraq.
“We are engaged in Iraq, we are engaged in Afghanistan, we are engaged in other parts of the world, and the cause for which we fight is not a new cause,” Frist said. “It is a cause that is represented by a whole series of battles the United States of America has fought in the past. It is laying down our lives, our soldiers’ lives, our families’ lives for the cause of democracy, the cause of freedom and the cause of peace—peace in Iraq and peace throughout the world.
“This is really a continuation of that ancient struggle between good and evil—it is as old as mankind and even after this war, this battle, there will be more battles to follow,” Frist continued. “No matter how long it takes, no matter how much it costs, the outcome is certain and victory will be ours. Good will triumph over evil.”
Frist said the new Republican majority in the Senate combined with a Republican president and Republican House is “a window of opportunity to accomplish some great things.” He highlighted some legislation that already has passed in the new Congress, including a ban on partial-birth abortions, and said he looks forward to passing a frugal budget that contains a strong Republican agenda.
As a medical doctor, Frist discussed the detrimental impact of rising medical malpractice insurance premiums due to out-of-control medical liability litigation. Access to health care is being diminished and trauma centers are closing, Frist noted.
“It is not that you don’t want people to have adequate compensation if they get hurt,” Frist explained. “Malpractice needs to be punished. It needs to be punished hard. You need to get the doctor out of there and make sure it never happens again.
“What we don’t want to do is have frivolous lawsuits where personal injury lawyers are given an incentive because they get 40 percent of the take and put it in their pocket, and the patients only get 30 percent, 40 percent or 50 percent after all the court costs. ... All we want is balance to the system.”
Frist became the third consecutive Senate majority leader to deliver a keynote address at IIABA’s National Legislative Conference—joining Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
Breaux told agents and brokers that he believes the war “shouldn’t take much longer.”
The senior senator from Louisiana said, “I strongly supported the effort. I think it is important to say to the dictators of the world that you have to listen to the rest of the world as we try to bring about a civilized world community. Seventeen resolutions were adopted by the United Nations and (Hussein) ignored all 17. ... If you don’t enforce the resolutions, they literally become worthless and not worth the paper they are written on.
Breaux told agents and brokers that it would be “good public policy” to reform the tax code by implementing a fair depreciation schedule for small businesses comprised largely of intangible assets, such as customer lists. Under current law, all intangible assets must be amortized ratably over a 15-year schedule. Legislation has been introduced in the House (H.R. 1222) that would allow the acquiring business owner to write off the first $5 million of intangible assets in the year of the purchase, with the remainder to be depreciated equally over 14 years. Similar legislation will soon be introduced in the Senate.
“I think we ought to do something about the depreciation of your intangible assets, which are your customer lists which are very important.” Breaux said. “It is ludicrous that you have to depreciate them over 15 years. I strongly support the effort to reduce that depreciation and give you some real reductions that are good for small businesses.”
Breaux also discussed health care reform, saying that “band-aid” fixes being made to Medicare and Medicaid are “not really solving the problem of a strong nation with great medical-delivery services, but with a medical delivery system that has not been keeping with the needs of the 21st Century. That is the real challenge that we have and it is not going to be easy to do,” Breaux said.
“We need to create a system that combines the best of what government can do with the best that the private sector can do. ... What I say is that everyone should be required to buy a basic health policy for themselves and their families, and that would be a basic plan that would provide hospital and doctor care and prescription drugs. They could buy more than that basic plan if they wanted to, but they could not buy anything less than that.
“We would obviously have to say to people with low income that we are going to have to help you pay for those premiums because they do not have the income to do so. But instead of a Medicaid program that is not being run very well by the states and the federal government, they would have a basic health insurance policy that they can buy from people such as yourselves,” Breaux told agents and brokers.
Political leaders annually address IIABA members—small business owners from all cities and towns across America—during the National Legislative Conference breakfast sessions. Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee that has primary jurisdiction over insurance issues in the Senate, will speak Friday.
Founded in 1896, IIABA is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of independent insurance agents and brokers, representing a network of more than 300,000 agents, brokers and their employees nationally. Its members are businesses that offer customers a choice of policies from a variety of insurance companies. Independent agents and brokers offer all lines of insurance—property, casualty, life and health—as well as employee benefit plans and retirement products. Web address: www.independentagent.com.