The Making of a Guru Part 2 Cocktails, Divorce and Medicare

My training at Prudential in small group and individual health plans was fantastic. At that time, it was almost like taking orders. You would explain the benefits and employers would just say, “Sign us up!” The price was excellent, and my book of business grew.

One Sunday afternoon I attended a cocktail party at Stephanie’s work at South County Seniors (SCS). This was an annual event and all the staff from the Senior Centers in South Orange County attended with their spouses. The director of the organization, Marilyn D., was in attendance without her spouse. Apparently, her and Ken D. were getting a divorce. He was an insurance agent who volunteered time at the San Clemente Senior Center, helping seniors with their health insurance issues. Marilyn wanted nothing to do with him and invited me to volunteer to help the seniors. How can you say no to that opportunity? Problem was, I knew nothing about Medicare and there was no internet nor many published materials in the early 1980s about the subject.

I did learn of a few insurance companies that offered Medicare Supplement plans and provided training. My typical interview with a senior was my responding, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Back then, there were no Medicare Advantage Plans, no HMO plans and Medicare would not be covering prescription drugs for another 20 years. I was a quick learner, and within a few months, I was volunteering one full day a month at San Clemente.

Nancy H. was the site manager at San Clementeand she was transferred to manage the much larger center in Laguna Hillsjust outside the gates of Leisure World. Nancy asked me if I would volunteer time in Laguna Hills like I was doing in San Clemente. Now I had two senior centers booking hourly appointments for me.

Meanwhile, Prudential had moved their offices to Laguna Hills as well. Prudential was the insurance company used by AARP to provide AARP members their Medicare benefits. It was a closed business, with their products not available to their agents. It was all mail and phone sales with an office in Pennsylvania assisting members.

One day a little old lady came to the office and needed help. The staff just didn’t have the heart to send her away, and as they knew I was selling Medicare plans on the side (it was allowed), referred her to me. I got a policy for her (with more benefits and lower cost than the AARP plan) and slipped a $50 bill to the secretary who sent me the lead. I do not believe there was another referral sent to Pennsylvania after that day, as my senior book was growing, and I continued handing out $50 bills.

My reputation and expertise were growing in the Southern California insurance community. I was invited by a company that represented hospitals and medical groups to do a training on Medicare. After my program, a gentleman approached me who was from a Laguna Beach hospital. They had a senior program that was not working well, and the insurance company was not paying the hospital nor their doctors. To make a long story very short, I took over the program and moved the 300 seniors to a new plan.

Meanwhile, Nancy had changed employers and was now running the senior program for the City of Mission Viejoand once again, I was asked to volunteer.

Meanwhile, back at Prudential, my group business and individual health business was diminishing. They started raising the prices and becoming less competitive. My time was getting spread too thin.

All my colleagues at mother Pru ​​had business cards printed for free by the company with the office phone number on them. Except me. I had my home phone number printed on my cards, with call forwarding to the office line. When I left Prudential all I did disconnect the call forwarding, and I retained all my contacts. I continued to sell individual and small group for other companies as well as being an independent contractor for Prudential. Of course, I continued my volunteer work.

I worked from home and had office space in a friend’s secretarial service office when I needed face-to-face time. Most appointments were in people’s homes, and I stayed busy between training my staff at the two hospitals and taking appointments for frail people at their homes rather than at the Senior Centers.


Harry Thal Insurance can be reached at 760-376-2100.

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