A new survey by the National Association of Health Insurers shows that more NAHU members spend more than 50% of their time servicing clients outside the sales process.

The survey also found that almost 95% of respondents assist with claims and billing issues. And nearly 90% help clients with compliance information on a daily basis.

The survey was based on responses from more than 3,300 of NAHU’s members.

NAHU reported in a 2008 survey that health insurance customers who use agents are satisfied not just with their insurance, but also with the work performed by their agents. That’s especially true in respect to the agent’s role in finding the right policy.

NAHU also finds positive attitudes about agents in a new study (released concurrently with the NAHU member survey) of small businesses nationwide. Most small businesses that offer insurance to their employees use an agent–75%), according to the small business study.

More than half of the companies that use an agent describe the relationship with the agent as close or friendly–53%.

One half of the companies that use agents said they think it unlikely they would stop using them, “citing the agent’s knowledge as the biggest reason why.”

The NAHU member survey was undertaken as part of the effort by health insurance agents to persuade the Department of Health and Human Services to exempt agent commissions from the medical loss ratio formula the agency must implement before the end of the year.

The survey seeks to quantify the important role agents play in the healthcare insurance system.

The MLR would restrict administrative cost to 15 to 20 percent of healthcare premiums.

NAHU and other health insurance agent trade groups asked the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to exempt agent commissions from the MLR in the draft document that state commissioners prepared for the HHS, which has final say.

But, the NAIC, in its fall meeting several weeks ago, declined to get involved because it questioned its legal authority to exempt agents from the MLR.

The NAIC did establish a task force to lobby HHS for either an exemption or relief, interim or permanent, from the MLR.

“In the midst of this massive health care overhaul, the agents’ role as advisor and educator is even more critical,” says NAHU CEO Janet Trautwein. “As members of a profession that requires a license and has stringent educational requirements, agents and brokers serve more as advocates for clients than simply salespeople.

“Without the assistance of health insurance agents or brokers, health care consumers would be left alone to deal with the ever-changing landscape of our health care system,” she adds. Trautwein.