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SBJ photo by ERIC OLSON
SBJ photo by ERIC OLSON

A Conversation With … Richard Russell on ‘Trumpcare’

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The health insurance marketplace is tumultuous, to say the least. How will Ollis/Akers/Arney brave this storm?
That changes day to day almost. I gave a continuing education presentation to the local bar association (recently) on this very topic. I had to supplement my materials because the day after I turned them in, the Senate issued their draft bill with their changes to the House version. It’s constantly in flux.

We are seeing more options and we’re developing a comprehensive solution for small-business clients – 50 employees or less – that don’t have to provide health insurance. There are folks that struggle playing against the larger companies if they don’t offer benefits.

What do you make of ‘Trumpcare’ so far?
I see some good fine-tuning of things. Maybe they’ll make the individual plans better coordinate with health savings accounts, where people can fully fund HSAs and there are no gaps in coverage because they don’t have enough money to pay for their out of pocket and all the deductibles.

I’m not sure you’re going to see a real big change in the overall structure of the market, except for one caveat: There are insurance carriers leaving markets. It hasn’t happened yet here in our region. But in other states, there are counties where there’s one or no carrier offering plans. That is a concern.

Will health care ever settle down?
Business loves certainty. We can plan around it, even if it’s not the most favorable. This is such a big issue. I don’t know how it really ever simmers down.

The Ollises have been involved since founding the agency in 1885. Does your appointment signal a shift?
People hear president and they assume you’re running the company, but Richard Ollis is still CEO, the ultimate decision maker.

There is a natural transition already in effect – the (employee stock ownership plan) in place a number of years ago. The most recent event was Richard’s dad Ron Ollis was chairman of the board, and he resigned at the beginning of the year. Richard took that position as chairman and CEO. I’ve been on the board since day one here (as general counsel). There is no formal plan for me to take over. It’s just kind of bench strength for the organization and management.

You’re in leadership at the second-largest insurance agency in the area. As a lawyer, did you foresee this as a career path?
It wasn’t a long learning curve. I’ve got a real background in business. I worked as a CPA for a number of years, primarily focused on tax, corporate and ERISA in my law practice. I found out at the end of my law practice, I was advising my clients on business strategy and structuring entities and risk management. That’s a lot of what we do here.

Now with Ollis/Akers/Arney for three years, how has your daily role changed?
I wear three different hats. The president’s role is an administrative role. I have taken some tasks off (Ollis’) plate, allowing him to be more engaged with clients and out in the community. With our vendor and carrier relationships, I’m working more closely with the principals. We have a number of internal training programs, and I’m helping coordinate and implement those programs and best practices internally. Employee ownership is a big deal for us.

Richard Russell is president and general counsel of Ollis/Akers/Arney. He can be reached at richard.russell@ollisaa.com.

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