The former head of the agency overseeing implementation of the health care reform law disagreed with state officials Friday over the need for insurance agents to be involved in the purchase of health insurance once the exchange system kicks in come January.
“The beauty of the exchange system is that if it works, you don’t have to use an agent,” said Jay Angoff, the first head of Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Department of Health and Human Services in comments at a panel discussion over how the states are faring in implementing the law.
“You can go directly to the Internet, you don’t have to use an agent, and if you want to use an agent you can, but you don’t have to,” Angoff said.
“I would hate for exchanges to build in the extra expense that requires people to use an agent that raises the price of insurance to be more than it should be based on the electronic system,” Angoff said.
Mila Kofman, executive director of the Washington, D.C., Health Benefit Exchange and former Maine insurance commissioner, and Rep. George Keiser, R-N.D., and former president of the National Conference of Insurance Legislators, disagreed.
Kofman replied to Angoff by saying that under the exchange being created by the District, consumers and small businesses can purchase health insurance without using the exchanges, and that D.C. residents and businesses won’t be charged for using agents to get help. “The cost is built into the price health insurers charge, and is based on a per-member, or per-month fee,” she said.
“We believe strongly, and we are different from other states, in maintaining the integrity and value of the agents and brokers, who are licensed, regulated and knowledgeable about health-care sales, as we about implementing the exchange in North Dakota,” Keiser said.
“In the District, which is pretty similar to North Dakota, we are relying heavily on the insurance agents and brokers, building them into our information technology for the exchanges, so a consumer using our online application system who wants to talk to a broker, have questions about the different policy choices available to them, they can just click on the button and choose among licensed, trained health-care insurance brokers for help,” Kofman said.
Angoff, now in private practice in the district as a partner at Mehri & Skalet in Washington, D.C., was the first head of the Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Department of Health and Human Services.
He left the agency last fall.
The different views on how states are implementing the exchanges and the role they foresee for agents and brokers in the exchange took place during a National Press Club Newsmakers program: Obamacare on the Ground, How is the Affordable Care Act Taking Shape in the States?
The law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) mandates establishment of health insurance exchanges in every state by Oct. 1.
The system goes into effect Jan. 1.
The law requires every exchange – whether state-based or federally-operated – to have a navigator program.
The law says that navigators must comply with any licensing, certification or other standards required by states.