Insurance agents have won a critical change in the House Energy and Commerce Committee version of healthcare reform legislation.

Through language negotiated by conservative Democrats as the House prepared to leave July 31, agents won explicit authority to sell within the health insurance exchanges that would be created under the legislation.

The provision in the bill reported out by the E&C Committee would also give agents the authority to sell the so-called public plan in the event that such entities are created under the final version of the legislation, according to officials of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America.

The key amendment to the E&C bill was added at the request of Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., and Mike Ross, D-Ark., according to IIABA officials.

Other provisions sought by agents included in the E&C bill would double the small-business exemption from the employer mandate to $500,000 in payroll, from the former $250,000, and would add language explicitly allowing the creation of cooperatives, although the public plan is still in the bill.

They also cautioned that House Democratic leadership has given “no assurances” that the final bill that goes to the House floor in September would contain the provisions. That is because the E&C bill must be reconciled with versions of the legislation reported out by the House Ways and Means Committee and the Education and Labor Committee.

At the same time, crucial talks are going on among a bipartisan group of members of the Senate Finance Committee. Industry officials and congressional staffers believe that the bipartisan bill negotiated by that committee would form the backbone of any final legislation. This group is not expected to complete work on a bill before Sept. 15.

Meanwhile, America’s Health Insurance Plans released a study indicating that 252 million Americans have insurance through either Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance.

Of those with private insurance, 61% get it through their employer; 6% through individual coverage; and 16% through government plans. The study said 17% of Americans don’t have insurance.

The report also said 89% of people who apply for individual coverage are offered a policy.

The report also said that health insurers have agreed that, as part of health care reform, rescissions “will no longer occur.”