HEALTH PLAN HAS AGENTS IN NEB. FEARING FOR JOBS

HEALTH PLAN HAS AGENTS IN NEB. FEARING FOR JOBS

President Clinton's health-care prescription is making some Nebraska private insurance agents sick as they worry about how they'll earn their keep if the plan is approved by Congress.

Omaha insurance agent Richard Wilkinson fears he will have to find new work if the Clinton health-care reform plan passes."I'm very scared," he said, but he said he still favors the Clinton plan or one like it. Mr. Wilkinson, 35, is among 8,166 Nebraskans licensed by the state to sell health insurance.

Under the Clinton plan, most health insurance would no longer be sold by private agents. Americans would be required to get their insurance either from their employer or through a government-established regional purchasing alliance.

How many agents would lose their jobs under the Clinton plan is uncertain.

Although Mr. Wilkinson said he fears the plan's possible impact on his livelihood, he added that such a plan could provide coverage to all Americans and has potential to provide less-costly health insurance.

"Maybe the sacrifice of a few jobs is warranted," the independent agent said.

Nebraska might be especially vulnerable to job losses because of a heavy concentration of health insurance companies in Omaha and Lincoln.

According to industry figures, 24,000 Nebraskans are employed in health insurance work. Only Connecticut has a larger share of its population so employed.

Some health-insurance sales people work for one company. Others, like Mr. Wilkinson, are independent agents who sell for more than one company.

Mr. Wilkinson said he isn't among those likely to stay in the private insurance business. He also could sell life insurance and mutual funds, but about 90 percent of his business is health insurance.

In Omaha last week, Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Roger Altman said the future wouldn't be all bad for health-insurance agents under the reform plan.

"They would have new employment opportunities in the alliances," Mr. Altman said.

Art Jetter Jr., owner of an Omaha insurance agency and past president of a national group of insurance agents, said he wouldn't be surprised if the government recruited private insurance agents. They would have the expertise to help run the health-care purchasing alliances, he said.

That alternative may not sit well with many agents, he said.

"I don't think that most agents would want to work for a government bureaucracy," said Mr. Jetter, former president of the National Association of Health Underwriters.