WASHINGTON BUREAU — Eight House Democrats and 17 House Republicans are asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to make room for insurance producers on the government’s consumer health coverage Web portal.

HHS unveiled the Web portal July 1 on a trial basis. An update with more comprehensive information is supposed to go up Oct. 1.

The portal is seen as a precursor to the health insurance exchanges that will be launched in 2014 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), a component of the Affordable Care Act package.

“We strongly encourage you to include the ability for consumers to contact certified, state-licensed independent health insurance agents and brokers for assistance when comparing coverage options,” lawmakers say in the letter, which originated in the office of Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La. “It is important the consumer’s options to contact independent and state-licensed health insurance agents and brokers be included no later than Oct. 1.”

Getting personalized service from an insurance agent or broker should help consumers use the portal to buy health insurance, the lawmakers who signed the letter say.

When Congress drafted PPACA, it “made sure to explicitly include provisions to give consumer access to independent and state-licensed health insurance agents and brokers in a reformed health insurance marketplace, both inside and outside health insurance exchanges,” the lawmakers say.

Agents and brokers are already helping individuals and small businesses buy health coverage, and they could provide outreach and enrollment assistance through the portal at virtually no cost to the federal government, the lawmakers say.

Although 8 Democrats signed the letter, only 3 are Democrats who voted for the bill that created PPACA.

The PPACA supporters who signed the letter are Reps. Leonard Boswell of Iowa; Baron Hill of Indiana; and Adam Smith of Washington.

John Green, a vice president at the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., says NAHU encouraged lawmakers to sign the letter.

Health insurance agents should play a key role in counseling people about their health insurance options, Green says.

“Providing consumers with the option to choose a local agent at the ZIP code level to assist them in choosing the right coverage for the individual or family makes sense,” Green says. “You wouldn’t want to call Washington to find out your home or car insurance options; you want someone you can look in the eye and call in the middle of night.”

Agents and brokers are working in Washington to ensure that they continue to have role in providing health insurance.

They are also lobbying state regulators –who are playing a key role in implementing the new health care system — to ensure that a minimum medical loss ratio provision does not shut producers out of serving the small group and individual health insurance markets.

State regulators meeting in Washington last week agreed to a request by Kevin McCarty, the Florida insurance commissioner, to establish a task force to deal with producers concerns about the effects of the new minimum medical-loss ratio provision on producer compensation.