A drug store in New Jersey displays a hard-to-read PPACA education poster. (LHP photo/Allison Bell)

With the scheduled launch of the public exchanges less than a week away, benefits brokers are still trying to understand how well the exchanges will promote themselves, what exactly the exchanges will sell, and where licensed professionals will fit in.

Republicans in Congress were still trying to use budget bill maneuvers to block the start of exchanges as recently as Tuesday.

But in New York City, a market served by a well-funded state-based Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange, health insurers are already starting to run ads promoting the exchange program.

EmblemHealth, for example, is using a full-page health trivia quiz in free “shopper” newspapers to promote its ability to answer consumers’ health reform questions.

In Jersey City, a short subway ride away but a market with a Republican governor and an exchange to be run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the local paper is just promising that a PPACA guide will run Oct. 5.

A drug store in the city has a big PPACA promotional poster in the window – but the poster is hard to read.

Brokers have many questions about the exchange menus.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) just Tuesday started to outline what coverage might cost in the states in which it will run the exchange program, and, at press time, it had not come out with the list showing the actual federal exchange plan menus.

EHealth Inc. (Nasdaq:EHTH), one of the companies acting as a Web broker for the federal exchange program, is trying to set itself apart from the other exchange Web brokers by getting its health insurance enrollment information into the Intuit personal and small business tax preparation systems.

Word & Brown — a  California company that helped popularize the modern exchange concept — is trying to attract attention to its well-established small-group private exchange program by running a series of seminars promoting its program.

Meanwhile, individual producers are making decisions about how deeply to get involved with learning about and selling exchange plans.

Rod Humphrey Jr., a health insurance broker in Spring Mills, Pa., a market that will have a federally run exchange, said he believes he has now collected about 26 or 27 federal exchange training certificates.

Humphrey has not experienced the legendary certification system crashes, but he said the modules covering topics such as eligibility for medical assistance were much more complicated than he had expected.

Exchanges are supposed to offer consumers access to independent “navigators,” or ombudsmen, who will go through a similar training program.

Navigator training is supposed to consist of 26 two-hour modules.

“I think they base that time frame on licensed agents who know the basics even before they start the course, not someone who has no knowledge of how the industry in general works,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey said he is still working with regulators to find out, for example, if he can have noncommissioned, in-person assistants in his office to answer general questions about the exchanges, in case he gets a flood of consumers asking for help.

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