Plan sponsors need to ensure that the broker and agents selling their Medicare Part D plans are up to the job, speakers at a Medicare and Medicaid Conference sponsored by America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, said on Sept. 11.

“Plan sponsors have a lot of responsibility in terms of the training and education of brokers and agents,” said Janet Trautwein, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va. Among those responsibilities, she said, are ensuring that agents and brokers are certified to sell Part D plans, and that they stay in compliance with the various rules and regulations established by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The conference, which was held in Washington, brought together plan sponsors, agents and brokers, and representatives from CMS to discuss the current state of the Medicare Part D prescription drug program as it heads into its second year.

Ms. Trautwein’s comments were made during a panel discussion on best practices for agents and brokers, which she noted will play a vital role for plan sponsors seeking to ensure that their customers are happy and their agents do not run afoul of CMS’ rules for selling plans.

She noted, however, that one of the more publicized fears regarding agents – that they will try to increase their own payments by moving clients from plan to plan – is overstated. “Agents make money off a large bulk of clients by enrolling them in a plan and keeping them over a long term,” she said. An agent who constantly tries to shift clients, she added, “would not be successful in their business.”

However, plan sponsors should maintain a significant amount of oversight of agents and brokers selling their products, she said. Some of the tools for doing so should include speaking directly with plan members, monitoring an agent’s phone calls and, if needed, going on “ride alongs” with particular agents.

Ms. Trautwein’s comments were echoed by Melvin Sanders, the team leader for Part D marketing at CMS, who also suggested plans check state insurance department websites for any agents who may have recently lost their license.

Plans owe it to themselves to ensure that their agents comply with CMS marketing rules, Mr. Sanders said, since it is their product that will ultimately be judged by the consumer.

“These are the people that are going out there with your name on their bag,” he said. “You want to make sure you have the right people out there.”