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Effort Underway to Push MLR Bill Through

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Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said efforts are underway to attach legislation exempting insurance agents from the medical loss ratio (MLR) provision of the healthcare reform law to another bill working its way through the Senate.

Isakson said at the Washington meeting of the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers (CIAB) that attaching the legislation to something already on the Senate floor “…is the best way to pass things in the Senate.”

Isakson and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., his co-sponsor, will try the attachment approach before introducing the bill in committee.  “Hopefully, visits today from brokers will increase momentum for the bill,” Isakson said.

The bill is S. 2068, the Access to Independent Health Insurance Advisors Act.

It would amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) to give some relief to small agents hit especially hard by the cutback in commissions that have occurred under PPACA.

At the same conference, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who is retiring, said PPACA should be “repaired, not replaced.”

He reminded the agents and brokers that the healthcare mandate fashioned back when President Clinton was in office came from the Republicans. “It is a Republican idea,” he said.

The Landrieu-Isakson legislation specifically excludes agent compensation from the MLR formula in the individual and small group markets.

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Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and John Barrow, D-Ga., have introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1206, the “Access to Professional Health Insurance Advisors Act of 2011”, which currently has 160 bipartisan co-sponsors but which has not hit the House floor.

The Landrieu-Isakson bill limits the MLR exclusion to the individual and small-group health insurance markets where the agents say “the problem is most severe.”

It clarifies that any bonuses agents may receive remain a carrier administrative expense. It does not include language in the House bill expanding the state MLR adjustments. Industry officials said that is unnecessary because the majority of states that applied have already received their determination from HHS. Under S. 2068, the waiver process will remain as is.

Isakson told the CIAB group that he will do everything he can to help get the bill through and that he and Landrieu are looking for more co-sponsors, “and hope to make a lot of progress.”

He told the brokers attending the meeting that, “If you have time, please advocate for it when you visit members of Congress; doing so gives us some of the incentive we need to get this passed.”

Nelson also voiced his support for the Landrieu-Isakson bill. He said that, “We need to protect the very important role of the agent in the process; we need to continue to put pressure on the Department of Health and Human Services to better understand the role of the agent.

“I’m a belt-and-suspenders guy,” Nelson said. “I would just as soon let them do it on their own, but if they don’t, I believe in putting pressure on them.”