Web Broker Sees HealthCare.gov Downtime as Sales Opportunity

The fight for the individual health market heats up

(Image: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) (Image: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services)

Planned service cutbacks at HealthCare.gov could give private web brokers, including Health Sherpa L.L.C., a shot at increasing their share of whatever public health insurance exchange market continues to exist.

Health Sherpa runs HealthSherpa.com, a website that can help consumers sign up for public exchange plans, and that also helps retail insurance agents get their clients into public exchange plans.

The company is drawing attention to the fact that it can help people sign up for coverage even when HealthCare.gov is offline for maintenance.

(Related: New HealthCare.gov Flexibility Could Ease 2018 Pain: Exec)

Web brokers have worked hard to build a strong relationship with the Trump administration’s HealthCare.gov managers.

George Kalogeropoulos, HealthSherpa’s chief executive officer, says in a statement that the company wants to work in partnership with the agency that runs HealthCare.gov to help people get high-quality, affordable care.

“That includes continuing to facilitate enrollment during scheduled and unscheduled downtime over the course of open enrollment," Kalogeropoulos, says.

"HealthSherpa is open on Sunday mornings – even when HealthCare.gov is online," the company says in an email sent to reporters around the country.


Open Enrollment Period 2018

The open enrollment period for 2018 individual major medical coverage, or time when consumers can buy coverage without showing they have a special reason to be shopping for coverage, starts Nov. 1.

The Trump administration HealthCare.gov managers have made some changes for 2018 that have alarmed exchange program supporters.

The administration has:

  • Moved the open enrollment period end date to Dec. 15. In recent years, open enrollment periods have extended from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31.

  • Cut the open enrollment advertising budget 90%, and focused the remaining ad budget on online ads.

  • Cut grants for navigators, and tied the amounts navigators will get for 2018 to their 2017 enrollment numbers.

  • Announced plans to shut the HealthCare.gov website down for maintenance from midnight to noon on every Sunday during the open enrollment period. 

But, aside from a little-noticed total Affordable Care Act de-funding provision in a spending bill the House recently to the Senate, every major Republican Affordable Care Act change proposal still in play would leave the public exchange system intact.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has taken some steps to make the exchange system friendlier to private agents and brokers. One change has been to let web brokers that meet agency standards connect clients directly to the system that provides exchange plan subsidies, rather than forcing web brokers to pass clients who want subsidies on to HealthCare.gov.


Private Distributors

Congress and the Trump administration have continued to leave the nature of the rules and programs that will shape individual and family major medical coverage unclear.

Many of the health insurers that are still in the individual market appear to be in the market mainly as a courtesy to consumers and states, and they have slashed or eliminated agent compensation.

But some agents see selling exchange plan coverage as a way to attract consumers who might be interested in buying other products, such as dental insurance or life insurance.

As of Sept. 26, HealthCare.gov had certified 23,749 exchange agents for 2018. The agent count was 30% lower than the count at the same time a yearlier, but, if half of HealthCare.gov's 9.2 million 2017 customers use agents to sign up for 2018 coverage, there could still be about one certified agent per 250 2018 HealthCare.gov customers.

--- Read ACA Exchange Programs Pass 11.5 Million 2017 Signups on ThinkAdvisor.


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